Do you ever sit around thinking, “Wow, I wish I could turn on my Web cam and talk to a completely random stranger who also has their Web cam on …” Well, today is your lucky day since that is exactly what ChatRoulette is all about.

Created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student in Moscow, ChatRoulette launched in Nov. 2009, and while it got some traffic, it was just this month that the media picked up on it.  Having been featured on Good Morning America and in The New York Times, the site has now grown to tens-of-thousands of visitors at a time.

The concept is a simple one: Turn on your Web cam, click “Start”, and you are soon connected to some other random person from around the world that is on the site at the same time.  Don’t see a person you want to talk to?  Click “Next” and you are immediately sent to the next person in the line.

As I am sure you have guessed by now, the site is quickly filling up with men looking for women, and, yes, you do see a whole lot of … um … “excited men” as you randomly click through the various “strangers”, as the site calls them.  You do, however, also see a lot of very bored looking teens, people just looking for someone to chat with, and occasionally a demon playing a violin.  (I took that screenshot about five minutes before I started writing this)

The site doesn’t require any registration to use, but if you do see something you’d rather not see, you simply click the “Report” button, and if they get enough reports on a user, their computer will be blocked from the site.

While the site is gaining in popularity, there are some definite risks for the younger folks out there, and, well, really anyone who doesn’t want to see that which can not be unseen.  We’re not going to say “Stay Away!  This Way Lies Madness!”, but we are going to suggest you tread cautiously if your curiosity gets the better of you.

(for the record, the violin playing demon wasn’t half bad!)

Categories: Internet, What Is   
 

The InternetWhat is a web browser and what does it do for you exactly?

It’s been a while since we did a new entry in the “What is…” series, but it seems like it is definitely time for it.  It’s easy to forget some days that terms you take for granted our ones that no one else seems to know.  Google recently went out on the streets of Times Square and asked people what they thought a “browser” was, and shockingly only 8% of people knew the correct answer.

The basic concept is simple, and Wikipedia does a great job of summing it up in just one sentence.

A web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting, and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.

The general answers in the video, which we posted below, seem to have most people confusing a search engine with a browser, but a search engine is a Web page and the browser is how you get to that page.  So when you click on an icon on your desktop such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome, that is the browser.

I know this seems like such a small difference, but knowing your terms is the first step to knowing your way through a computer with as little confusion as possible.

Categories: Web Browsing, What Is   
 

prism logoMozilla Prism has been getting mentioned a lot of coverage in the tech media lately due to a major update, but what does it do exactly, and is it something you need?

Mozilla, the same company that makes the popular Firefox Web browser, has updated their little known Prism desktop application, and while the tech media is buzzing about it, it doesn’t seem like something that will ever take off in a big way.  The basic premise is that you can convert any Web application such as YouTube, Gmail or Google Reader and turn it into a stand alone desktop application.  The theory behind this is that it will cause less instability in your browser, ease the locating of the app you want to use instead of looking through tabs and basically lets your browser go back to just being a browser as opposed to running applications.

The problem is that it fails at almost everything it sets out to do.

prism memory usageTo the left you can see an edited down version of my Windows Task Manager from when I was running Google Reader in Prism, and running four tabs in Firefox.  Reader is one of my used apps every day, so I figured I would see a significant drop in Firefox memory usage with it running separately.  While I did notice an uptick in response time as I browsed my RSS feeds, but I saw no drop in the amount of memory being used by my Browser.  So, instead of decreasing memory usage on my system, I actually increased it by over 100 thousand bytes.  Sure, Firefox may be a bit more stable, but at a negative to my overall system.

As for easing the finding of the program by removing it from my tabs, that also didn’t accomplish much.  As a Web professional, I never have less than six programs open on my task bar at any time.  Instead of poking through tabs, which you can move around to any order you want, I now have to poke through buttons on my status bar which could be in any order unless I open my programs in the same order every time I boot my system.

One of their big selling points comes from their informational page:

A single faulty app or web page can no longer take down everything you are working on.

Well, this is a problem solved by Google Chrome as each tab is treated as a separate process, so if one crashes, you only lose that tab, and not the whole browser.

To add insult to injury, for optimal use of Prism, they recommend you install an extension in Firefox for easier conversion of a web app to a desktop tool.  The problem with this concept is that each extension you have running in your browser adds to the memory usage and instability of your browser.

I also tried Gmail in Prism, and I lost some functionality of Labs features, so some items used by an app were not usable in this new tool.

In short, I am not entirely clear on what the benefits of Prism are.  For each “problem” it aims to solve, it seems to create another.  I, for one, will be deleting it from my system not that I’ve tried it.  I just can’t see where I am gaining anything from it.  Perhaps future releases will address some of these issues, but for now I don’t recommend it for pretty much anyone, be it a novice or power user.  If you would still like to learn more, check out their informational video below.

Categories: What Is   
 

The InternetHave you heard of bandwidth caps on your Internet access? If not, you probably will at some point.

We’ve explained what bandwidth is before, but the short version is that it is the amount of data that you can transfer between computers.  While Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have usually offered you “unlimited” bandwidth (within reason), companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable are starting to to use bandwidth caps on your usage.

Essentially they are setting up rules that say you can use amounts of bandwidth such as 250 GBs a month.  That should be enough for most people, but with more and more of our computing and entertaining involving streaming information, will it continue to be?

Sure there are certain things you can mesaure how much bandwidth you are using, but do you know how much bandwidth youa re using when you work in a cloud computing environment?  How about when you’re playing your favorite game online?  Using Skype?  Streaming a movie?  You can see how your usage might start adding up quickly, and if you exceed your limits they can charge you more or they may suspend your account if you do it repeatedly.

Seeing as users in the United States already suffer from some of the highest prices in the world for Internet access, and enjoy some of the worst speeds, this just adds insult to injury.  With more and more services telling you how you can enjoy them thanks to the wonders of streaming Internet technology, just remember that each one you add will eat away that much more of your bandwidth cap.

Categories: Internet, Mobile Phones, What Is   
 

Normally we don’t allow a YouTube video to do all the talking for us, but we came across this little gem today that gives you a brief history of how the Internet got started back in 1957, and how it slowly developed into what we know today.  An excellent primer for those who know nothing of its origins.

Categories: What Is   
 

google gearsWhat exactly is Gears, and why is it something you need?

Originally named Google Gears, Gears  is a small bit of open source software launched on May 31st, 2007 by Google that enables Firefox and Internet Explorer to run small pieces of code that improve your Web browsing experience.  In some instances, as with the recent announcement of using Gmail offline, Gears will allow you to do some things on your computer without an Internet connection that used to be online only activities.  It can also be used to speed up certain activities that you do online such as it to cache images used by WordPress in the administration section to speed up page loading times, and decreasing the strain on your server.

Though the software is closing in on its second birthday, it seemed to go relatively unnotice until just the last few months of 2008.  While the name has been mentioned numerous times, and what potential it had, no one seemed to be using it in their everyday lives.  In just the past week, I have added two new systems to it that I use every day, so maybe it is time for Gears to finally bust out of being a niche product into a part of the average Web user’s life.

Categories: Google, What Is   
 

startertech old newIt isn’t only the calendar that is changing today, but StarterTech also just got a big old coat of fresh paint!

It’s hard to believe that we only launched this site on April 12th of 2008, it seems like a lot longer with all of the news, information and how-tos we have brought you so far, but it’s true.  Even though the site isn’t yet a year old, we felt that the beginning of 2009 was the perfect time to re-design the site, and thanks to the folks at Blog Design Studio, they delivered our brand new look right on time to us this morning!

We went with a much more “open” design to make it easier to read, and we also added some new features.

Comments

We have added the Intense Debate commenting system to the site allowing you to better follow comments, reply to people directly and, if you register with their site, you can build a reputation that follows you to every site that uses their system.  You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of a posts comments if you would like to continue following the discussion.

Share This

share thisWe have added the Share This button at the bottom of each post as opposed the old system that only had four social bookmarking buttons.  If you are unfamiliar with this button, you can read more about it here on the site in What Is Share This, but if you click on it, it is pretty self explanatory.  This will also allow you to finally email articles to other people you may know who would enjoy something we have posted.

Sidebar

You will now find the categories area is much easier read and to navigate.  Simply click on the one that interests you, such as What Is, and you will see all the posts we have done in our What Is series.

You will also find our most recent articles and comments there for easier browsing.

What’s Ahead In 2009

We feel this new design better reflects where we plan to go in 2009.  The old design was an “off the shelf” design that allowed us to get started, but now that we have a unique and origianl design, we feel it better communicates what we are as a site.  We want to bring technology to the masses in an easy and understandble manner that is accessible to all.

If you have any suggestions and or comments, please feel free to leave them on this post.  And don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed to follow us through the new year!

Categories: What Is   
 

aint it coolHotlinking, something we first discussed back in June of 2008, is something you might expect from smaller blogs, but not one of the best known web sites on the Web.

Founded by Harry Knowles in 1996, Ain’t It Cool News has grown to be a leading source of movie news and gossip, but it has always had a bit of a amateur feel to it, and this feeling is still coming through.  While perusing the article “Harry’s Picks For The Top Ten Films of 2008!!!“, I noticed the image you see to the right.  What was supposed to be an image from the movie The Wrestler was replaced with an image built specifically to thrawt people who hotlink images from the specific site.

For those who don’t remember what hotlinking is, I will quote what I said in the original article:

Hotlinking, or remote linking, is the act of using a file hosted on someone else’s web server on another site without their permission.

In short, it is a shady practice, and particuraly reprehensible if you are running a successful site.

This is not the first time I have seen similar actions from this particular site as back in 2006 they were hotlinking a site I am friendly with called BlogD, run by a man in Japan named Luis.  He detailed his battle with Ain’t It Cool News as it was happening, and all told they hit him for 1.5 GB in file transfers, a hefty sum for any personal blog.  If he had been close to his bandwidth allocation for that month, it would have ended up costing him money.   I checked other imaes in the same article I took the screenshot from, and all of them were hotlinked from various sites from around the Internet.

Seeing as it has been two years since I first learned of them doing this, I am shocked to discover they are still doing it.  This is not something any website should partake in, especially one that is a money making site that is a leader in its specialty niche.

Take a valuable lesson from this that it is not a good idea for any site to do this, and especially one that can be embarrassed by being a big name Web site stealing bandwidth from sites much smaller than itself.

Categories: News, What Is   
 

While everyone knows the name Google, it’s sometimes hard getting a handle on all of their different products and what exactly they do.

Case in point, I have long been familiar with the fact that Google Desktop had the ability to search your hard drive for files just like their search engine searches the Web. What I wasn’t aware of was that it can also be used as a sidebar home for gadgets.

I only figured this out yesterday when the Gmail Blog announced that you could now have your mailbox present in the widgets.  I immediately installed the sidebar and even I am amazed with all of the gadgets you can install that will free up other parts of your desktop.  Some of them are just for fun, some you don’t really need, but when you work on the Internet full time, they do make it more enjoyable.

Pictured at right is my current sidebar on my desktop, and as you can see, I am able to play all of the BBC Radio stations, check my email, monitor what is happening on my computer, check the weather, clip items from the web and, probably one of the most valuable items to me, have a scratch pad to jot down quick notes.  There are hundreds of other items you can install to customize your sidebar as you see fit and make it as productive as you like to suit your needs.

So, why would you want to have your Gmail outside of the browser?  Well, it’s one less tab to deal with in your browser, it’s always at the ready and it stays more out of your way.

This isn’t to say that the sidebar doesn’t have its own quirks.  Though I have it set to always hide itself behind whatever window I am working on, I lost count of how many times today it would just randomly appear on my screen, especially when using the slider bar in a web browser.  Not sure what caused that, but I am sure I will learn how to avoid it.

Overall I am very taken with it so far, and I can see it becoming an essential part of my day.  I do like the fact it doesn’t seem to consume many system resources to run.  I know it looks like I am using a lot of memory, but I also had eight active programs running when I took the image.

Since I am a late comer to this service somehow, what gadgets do you find the most useful and essential to your experience with it?

Categories: What Is   
 

What is I.C.E., and why should everyone have it on their phone?

After the London bombing attacks in 2005, a British paramedic named Bob Brotchie tried to think of a way it would have been easier to contact loved ones to let them know if people were in need of help after such a disaster.  He came up with the In Case of Ermegency plan, also known as I.C.E..

The idea is that you make an entry in your contacts list of your cell phone with either ICE or I.C.E. as the name, that was medical personal will know instantly which number to call.  If you have multiple people to be called, you name them ICE 1, ICE 2, etc or ICE Home, ICE Work and so on.

While this is an excellent idea, and something that all of us here at StarterTech have done, it doesn’t replace an old fashoned contact card in your wallet.  There is always a chance of being seperated from your phone, or it being damaged beyond use, so it never hurts to have a piece of paper in your waller as backup.  In the meatime, what are you waiting for?  Grab your cellphone and get to creating those entires.

Categories: What Is   
 
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