That scream you heard this afternoon was millions of high school and college students crying out in pain as they realized that Wikipedia was down.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, crashed this afternoon when its European data center overheated.  According to the site’s technical blog, once one of its data centers has a failure, all traffic is supposed to be automatically routed to another center, in this case Florida, via a “failover” device.  This will cause the DNS — the file that tells a domain name where to go — to automatically reroute to the secondary location.  The problem today was that Wikimedia, the company behind the site, discovered that the failover was also broken.

The problem has now been fixed, but domain name servers the world over will now have to play catch up with where they are supposed to direct your traffic.

Wikipedia is one of those sites you take for granted because it’s always “there”, so understandably some people are shaken by this.  We do however have a solution for those of you trying to finish term papers and essays right now … there’s this magical place called a “library” …

Categories: Internet, News   

While we already explained Chatroulette to you recently, The Daily Show did a video (mildly not safe for work due to some language) that not only demonstrates how odd the site is, but how potentially dangerous it could be for kids.  Yes, it is all done with humor, but in his effort to mock the site, Mr. Stewart and his writers may have done the most effective job of demonstrating the problems with it.

Sit back and laugh, but realize … this isn’t too far off from the truth.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tech-Talch – Chatroulette
Daily Show
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Categories: News   

The state of Colorado really wants your tax dollars from items you buy online, and if the retailers aren’t willing to collect the taxes, the state wants them to tell you how much you owe.

States have been trying to figure out for some time how to collect sales tax from all of those sales made on sites such as Amazon.  The problem is that tax laws say a business must have a presence in a state for that state to collect taxes from it.  With online retailers, that has been tricky at best, so states have had to get creative in how they do it.

According to TechFlash, Colorado’s latest gambit is that retailers are supposed to tell you at the end of each purchase how much the customer owes the state, and then do it again in a end of the year summary.  Apparently the state then expects the consumer to submit those amounts with their annual state taxes.

While Amazon is the focus of most stories, this impacts all online retailers, and the idea of every retailer trying to keep these types of records is daunting at best.  Many online retailers are one to two people operations, so trying to add this to their workload will be a nightmare.  Also, most retailers run on pre-packaged shopping cart software which contains no options for this type of thing.

This is going to be interesting to watch, and also potentially very messy.

Categories: News, Shopping   

It seems that the UK government is not a fan of you enjoying free Wi-Fi access with your morning cup of coffee.

According to ZD Net UK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) issued an explanatory document (Word Doc download) that explains why free & open Internet access should be more closely monitored for potential copyright infringement.  It boils down to that coffee shops, libraries, universities and any other business or establishment that offers free Internet access  could be held responsible for any copyright infringement done over their connection as if they had done it themselves.

Through out the UK and the European Union, there has been a lot of talk of “three strikes” laws which would have people losing their Internet connections if they were found to be repeatedly be violating copyright by downloading illegal files.  This new advice offered by the BIS, if included in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill, would see your local coffee shop being treated no differently.

Each establishment would have the option of choosing to be classified as an “ISP” (Internet Service Provider) or a “Subscriber.”  If they should choose the former, this means they would have to keep records of every person that accessed their connection, just like any other ISP.  This would be a daunting task for any business, and could quickly kill any interest they have in maintaining a connection.  If they should choose to be a “subscriber”, they wouldn’t have to keep the records, but if three copyright infringements were found to becoming from their connection, they could be shut down.

Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at Sheffield University, told ZDNet UK, “”This is going to be a very unfortunate measure for small businesses, particularly in a recession, many of whom are using open free Wi-Fi very effectively as a way to get the [customers] in.”

Prof. Edwards is correct, and this is another unfortunate example of how the copyright holders are becoming the de facto lords of the Internet.  It seems every new law passed in regards to the Web has become about protecting copyrights, and each time you can trace it back to the film and music industries.  They are so concerned about their bottom lines, and have enough money to woo politicians, that they are stifling the expansion and innovation that the Internet should bring with it.

There is no doubt that copyrights are being infringed on the Net, we aren’t so naive to believe otherwise, but considering the fact that 1.73 billion people are on the Internet, the number engaging in piracy is just a drop in the bucket.  The entertainment industry is helping to punish the Internet as a whole for the actions of a relative few.

Businesses have indeed started to use free Wi-Fi as a way to attract customers, and considering how lousy the connections usually are, they aren’t good enough for anything beyond e-mail.  Now you want to use scare tactics to stop them from even offering that?  Where are the statistics to show how much piracy is conducted in a Starbucks?  My bet would be it’s about as close to zero as you can get, but they won’t stop copyright holders from insisting that one guy who downloaded a Lady Gaga song is enough reason to shut down the whole lot.

The people need to start fighting back and reminding their governments we far outnumber the copyright holders.  This isn’t to say we should be downloading copyrighted materials as we see fit, but that the copyright holders should have a lot less say in how and where we get to  use the Internet.

Categories: News, Wi-Fi   

Barbie is one of those brands that just won’t die, and to celebrate her 125th career, she’s getting into a new job with a big future: computer engineer.

Mattel, the company behind the Barbie line, held a contest to select Barbie’s 125th career, and the winner was that of a computer engineer.

Pictured here (click the image for a massively larger picture), Computer Engineer Barbie comes with a highly appropriate outfit for her new job.  To create an authentic look, Barbie designers worked closely with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to develop the wardrobe and accessories for Computer Engineer Barbie. Wearing a binary code patterned tee and equipped with all the latest gadgets including a smart phone, Bluetooth headset, and laptop travel bag, Computer Engineer Barbie is geek chic.

“All the girls who imagine their futures through Barbie will learn that engineers — like girls — are free to explore infinite possibilities, limited only by their imagination,” says Nora Lin, President, Society of Women Engineers. “As a computer engineer, Barbie will show girls that women can turn their ideas into realities that have a direct and positive impact on people’s everyday lives in this exciting and rewarding career.”

At the same time, Barbie’s 126th career was announced to be that of a news caster.  Apparently Barbie can’t hold down a job.

While I understand this isn’t normal StarterTech-fare, I worked as a toy correspondent in the 1990′s, and the toy industry still holds a soft spot in my heart … forgive me this one, folks.

Categories: News   

While not exactly tech news, it is something that impacts every American tax payer.

According to The New York Times, both houses of the U.S. Congress have decided to make monetary donations to earthquake relief in Haiti tax deductible from your 2009 returns.  This is unusual in the fact that donations usually have to be made in the calendar year that you want to take them off your taxes.

If you make a monetary donation to a recognized charity inside the United States between Jan. 11th and March 1st, you have the option of applying it either your 2009 return, or saving it for your 2010 return.  You will need a receipt of your donation of course, and, again, it must meet the other criteria.  You can read all about it in this CCH briefing (PDF link).

Of course this shouldn’t be your only motivation for donating to help with relief from this devastating natural disaster, but every little bit helps.

If you need assistance in determining what legitimate charities you can donate to, make sure to check the resources we put in our Haitian Earthquake Relief post.

Categories: News   

audiomicroApparently the stock sound effects and music business is booming if the latest news from AudioMicro is anything to judge by.

AudioMicro is a leading source for royalty free music that you can download to include in videos, podcasts and so on that we have written about several times before.  Today the company is announcing that it has added nearly 20,000 production audio tracks from the vaults of Hollywood in a new collection called “The Platinum Collection.”

This new collection are all tracks that were previously available to Hollywood productions, and this is the first time they are being offered in such a way that even people producing video from their basements can afford to use them in a production.  “When we launched our first high end collection in October, we received overwhelming positive feedback from the community about its unprecedented quality, size, and scope”, said AudioMicro CEO Ryan Born.  “We are excited to enhance our archive of premium content with 20,000 new tracks in the Platinum Collection.”

With the addition of these new tracks, AudioMicro is now offering over 200,000 music tracks and sound effects for use royalty free in productions.  If you’re producing a podcast of videocast, this site is a must visit.

Categories: music, News   

During this horrible time for the people of Haiti, it is easy to want to reach out and help the people impacted by this crisis. While this is a great thing, just make sure that the group you are donating to is a legitimate one.

As sad as it might be, scam artists take advantage of situations such as the one in Haiti to fill their own pockets.  Luckily several sites have gathered together the legitimate places where one can donate to aid in the relief of the victims.  The sites are:

Any resource listed on these pages is legitimate and 100% trustworthy.  Do NOT trust any charities that email you, run ads on sites, text you out of the blue and so on.  While some of them may be on the up and up, you can’t take the risk.  Please make sure that whomever you decide to donate through is who they say they are, and that the money is going where they claim it is.

Categories: News, Scams   

seniorcomputerThe number of senior citizens, those aged over 65, has risen more than 55% over the past five years.

According to a report from Nielsen, the number of senior citizens on the Internet has grown from 11.3 million in 2004 to 17.5 million in 2009.  And they aren’t just hopping on for a second, they are spending an average of 58 hours a month online.

So, what are they doing with their time? Here are the top 10 ways they spend their time:

  1. Checking Personal E-mail
  2. Viewed or Printed Maps Online
  3. Checked Weather Online
  4. Paid/Viewed Bills Online
  5. View/Posted Photos Online
  6. Read General/Political News
  7. Checked Personal Health Care Info
  8. Planned Leisure Travel Trip Online
  9. Searched Recipes/Meal Planning Suggestions
  10. Read Business/Finance News

In other words, they appear to be all about using the Web as a utility.  Whether it be communicating or keeping current, they seem to be finding ways to bring more of the world into their home, saving them the time and trouble of going out.  While it is always wise for seniors to stay physically active, at least this allows them to spend their time out of the home on more leisurely pursuits than running all those sorts of little errands that do nothing more than annoy a person.

It also looks like they are looking ways to cut expenses.  Who needs to mail payments any more when you can pay your bills online and know instantly that your payment has been received?

What is also intriguing is the way they are engaging the Web when they aren’t doing the more practical activities:

  1. Google Search
  2. Windows Media Player
  3. Facebook
  4. YouTube
  5. Amazon
  6. Yahoo! Mail
  7. Yahoo! Search
  8. Yahoo! Homepage
  9. Bing Web
  10. Google Maps

Yes, there is a whole lot of searching going on there, but social network Facebook rose from 45th position last year to 3rd position this year.  With YouTube in 4th place, they are looking for entertainment, and Amazon in 5th means they are shopping or researching possible purchases.

Apparently they really like Yahoo! Mail for all that email they are doing.

StarterTech was started with the idea of making the Web simpler for people such as senior citizens, and apparently we were correct about them wanting to use it!

Categories: Internet, News, Opinion   

ftc_logoThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for bloggers regarding disclosure of “material connections” to companies take effect today.

Back in October we wrote up the news and questions about the new FTC guidelines for bloggers that were coming into being, and today is the fateful day those take effect.  Sadly the questions we put forth in that original post have still not been answered, but no matter, you have to begin disclosing all relationships with blog post subjects today.

Actually, let me rephrase that: If you interact anywhere online, you must disclose any relationships you have with the subject or face the possibility of fines up to $11,000.  This includes becoming a fan of a company on Facebook, talking about them on Twitter, sharing a link to their site and even having verbal communications with people on the street.  You can read the full guidelines from the FTC (PDF link) for yourself, but essentially if you talk to anyone in any way about a company or product, you must disclose your relationship to them.

The problem is, as I have written about endlessly on my personal blog, is that the FTC has done nothing to tell us what form these disclosures must take.  Can we make one post and just continually link to it?  Must we put it at the end of each post?  Must we update old posts?  No one knows, and the FTC isn’t saying.

If you have a blog, and anyone pays you in any way, or gives you a product for review, you must add a disclosure to the end of the post for now just to be safe.  Personally I feel this will end up in court, and I feel the FTC is going to discover the rules are not clear enough, and that they are possibly over reaching.  Until further notice, just be careful and try to make sure you keep your nose clean unless you really want to be the test case for these guidelines.

Categories: News, Opinion   
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