Considering Second Life has shown up as a main plot element in a show such as CSI: New York, you have to ask yourself what exactly it is.

Labeled as a “virtual world”, Second Life (SL) is a web based system that allows users to interact via their avatars, and live out a true “second” life that can be as different as their real one as they like. While this may sound a bit like an MMORPG, there are no quests and adventures in Second Life, you mainly go there to socialize with other users.

Just as with your offline life, users of Second Life earn money in the form of the “Linden Dollar” (L$). Each user earns a salary each week, but you can earn more by working in stores (yes, there are real businesses in SL), buying them for real money from brokers or providing services for others such as helping them build new things for the world.

Second Life has received a salacious reputation due to the more extreme sexual things that happen in the world, but it is restricted to certain areas of the world, and are easily avoided.  It is the same as with any real population, there will always be a fringe element, but it shouldn’t scare you away from the experience.  If you have a family member under the age of 18 that wants to try Second Life, you can sign them up for Teen Second Life which is much stricter in its monitoring, and adults are only allowed in to very restricted areas, tend to be educators and must undergo a criminal background check.

It is definitely addictive pasttime for people who get into it, and while it can be done for free, it can also become expensive if you want to have your own buildings and such.

Categories: What Is   
 

Short for massively multiplayer online role-playing game, MMORPGs are a form of online gaming that grow in popularity with each passing year.

MMORPGs are virtual world style games capable of handling thousands of simultaneous players.  While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different games out there, handling themes from fantasy, anime, science fiction and more, but they all share similar characteristics: massive areas to explore, ways to progress your character(s), socializing amongst the players and more.

Many games, such as the immensely popuar World of Warcraft, feature a pay-for-play structure where you pay a monthly subscription to access the game.  Others are free, but you need to pay for things like equipment, armor, healing devices and more.  If the idea of paying for trying out something you aren’t even sure you will like, there are free MMORPGs out there that go from simplistic to fully developed that rival any of the pay-for-play ones.

The biggest drawback to MMORPGs are their ability to take up immense amounts of your time.  If you want to advance in the games to higher levels, you need to work at it, and then can take weeks of intense game play to do it.  You shouldn’t let this stop you from giving them a try, but don’t be surprised if you find days passing without noticing.

Categories: What Is   
 

The InternetWhile it is always wise to backup your most important files, if you do it locally, you could still lose everything in a disaster. This is where remote backup comes in.

You can never go wrong in backing up your most important files, but the question is where do you do it to in case of a fire, tornado, flood and so on.  If you do it an external hard drive or CDs, you would need to take them off site to make sure all your data isn’t in one place, and that can lead to another step of you forgetting.  What you need is a “set and forget” type of backup that allows you to set it up, and then it just runs invisibly in the background without you having to think about it. These sorts of products are commonly known as “remote backup”.

Once you choose which folders you want backed up, the service you selected will do an initial backup, which can take quite awhile to do considering how much you chose, and from there on out it will update only the files you add to your selected folders or update.  All of this should happen seamlessly in the background of your system while you continue your work.

At this time there are three major leaders in the remote backup market.

Carbonite

Carbonite has an interesting side benefit that it takes 10 minutes after you last touch a file before it uploads to their server.  This allows you the time to undue any changes you may want to take out before it is sent over to them.

  • Allows for versioning on the PC version, but not the Mac version at this time.
  • Charges for multiple computers.
  • Offers free trial.
  • Allows you to do a restore.
  • You may not grant others access to your files.

Mozy

Mozy is one of the oldest backup systems out there.

  • Offers 2 GB of free storage to try them out.
  • Standard Mozy accounts are not intended for businesses, they need to use MozyPro.
  • Allows you to do a restore.
  • You may not grant others access to your files.

SugarSync

SugarSync is the newest kid on the block at this time and is doing some very innovative things.

  • Allows you to access your files from your computer, mobile phone, iPhone or iPod Touch.
  • Can turn your photos into an online gallery.
  • Allows you to back up as many computers as you would like inside of your specified amount of storage.
  • Can grant others access to your files.
  • Allows you to do a restore.
  • All files are accessible from any other computer that is part of your backup system.

Of all three, the only one I haven’t used is Mozy, and between Carbonite and SugarSync, I highly recommend SugarSync.  I am dropping Carbnite when my current contract ends, and that is no reflection on bad service, but I am just much happier with SugarSync’s advances in technology.

Categories: What Is   
 

What is an Internet Protocol (IP) address, and why is it important to your online life?

IP addresses are how computers talk to each other and know where to route your data packets.  Think of it almost as the address of your house; without it, how would your mailman ever find you?

These addresses are assigned on local area networks (LAN) in your home, as well as wide area networks (WAN), which is better known as the Internet.  There are things such as dedicated IPs where a website pays an extra fee for an address that is excllusive to them, but if you are on a shared host, numerous websites will share the same address.

Now, when you log in to the Web, you are also assigned an IP, and while it is unusual for it to be a unique, don’t think the face you are sharing an address with others that you are anonymous while you surf.  If you go to Amazon.com, if they wanted to know whom on a shared IP it was, they could get a court order and demand your Internet Service Provider what account during that time, on that IP, was going to Amazon.

It pays to know your IP address so that when you need to look up who is accessing your website or email, you can see which instances were you, and which ones were people you don’t know.

Categories: What Is   
 

What is Google PageRank (PR), and why does it matter to a website?

The founders of Google, the kings of all things on the Web it seems, came up with a system of judging the importance of a web page in 1995, and incorporated it into their search engine when it launched in 1998.  The system uses an algorithm that rates a page on a scale from 0 – 10 in it’s importance on the Web.  No one but the folks at the company seem to understand how exactly it works, though there are many people who will try to tell you sell ebooks that claim to explain it all.  To the right you can see a graphic representation of how PageRank works (click it for a larger view), but believe me that this is a guess at best.

So if PageRank is so mysterious, why do people find it so important?  Well, the one thing that is known for sure about PR is that the higher your page’s rank, the higher you show up in searches on search engines.  So the higher on the scale of 10 your page is, the better chance it would seem you have of showing up quicker in a search term related to your site.

The other area where it can be important is with advertisers looking to buy ad space on your site.  Some advertisers are looking for a page of only certain PR levels because in theory that will mean more eyeballs on their ads.  The more important thing is your actual visitor traffic, but don’t be surprised if some advertisers ask you what your level is.

How do you know your PR?  Well, the quickest way is to install the Google Toolbar and it can tell you the PR of any page you visit.  There are also numerous websites out there that will tell you your PageRank if you just do a search on “Google PageRank”.

We bring up this subject because StarterTech just went from 0 to 2 in PR.  How we did it, we don’t know, but we’re thrilled we finally got a score!

Categories: What Is   
 

You hear them mentioned on news shows, by political candidates, and even on standard television shows, but what is a podcast?

The short and simple version is that a podcast is an audio or video recording that can be delivered to your computer or mobile device.  The longer explanation is that they are like radio shows or cable access television in that people can record on just about any subject you can think of, do it for next to no money, and gain an audience of a few to thousands.

So the question is how do you start finding all of these podcasts, or at least ones that may interest you?  The best place to start is probably the iTunes Store which has a selection of thousands of podcasts (link will open iTunes on your system) is easy to search, will sync to your iPod automatically and makes them easy to subscribe to.  (In case you were curious, the word “podcast” is a mixture of “iPod” and “broadcast”.)  Will there be of anything of interest to you?  Of course there will be!  Comedy, religion, technology, educational… there’s a podcast for everything.

In the future we will bring you more entries about the terminology of podcasts, how to make one, how to host them and more.  And if you’re looking for one to add to your subscriptions, make sure to check out Scattercast, my personal weekly podcast!

Categories: What Is   
 

What is ShareThis, and how can it help you let others know about the things you find interesting on the web?

ShareThis is a green button you sometimes run across on the web (pictures to the right) that has a three point white symbol on it.  When you click on it, it will expand to give you choices of various ways you can share the web page you are on with other people around the web.  We’ll explain each of these pages to you and how they work.

The first screen will bring up logos of various social networking and social bookmarking sites.  Once you click on one of them, it will take you to that site and bring all the information about the page you were on with you.  This will save you having to go back and copy and paste all of the information on your own.

When you click on the”Post” tab, it will give you links to various places where you can blog about the page you were on, once again bringing all of the information with you so you don’t haveto worry about typing it all up yourself.

The last tab is the email tab and will allow you to send emails directly to those people you especially will appreciate whatever kind of site you’re on.

Now, not allsites have this installed, for those who want to have constant access ot a tool such as this, you can also install their web browser plugin button so that you can use it any time they feel like.  While not an essential tool, it is nice to have when you want to let someone know about a site you’ve found.

Categories: What Is   
 

It seems you can’t turn on the TV any more without seeing a commercial for Verizon’s FiOS service, but what is it, and is it truly faster?

While FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) is a brand name, it is a variation on the concept of Fiber To The Home (FTTH)/Fiber To The Curb (FTTC)/Fiber To The Node (FTTN) concept of high speed Internet access.  Fiber optics, due to the nature of light transmission, can handle far more bandwidth than cable or DSL can, resulting in much higher Internet conenctivity speeds.

While common cable speeds are in the range of 5 – 8 MBs (Megabits a second) for downloading and 500+ KBs (Kilobytes a second) uploading, and with services such as FiOS, you can see speeds up to 50 MBs download and 20 MBs upload.  So, yes, you could see download speeds up to 10 times faster than your current cable modem, but it all depends on much you are willing to pay.

While there are other companies besides Verizon offering fiber optic service, they do seem to be the ones currently leading the charge with rolling it out as many placed as they can.  Unfortunatly, as you can see by this handy, but unofficial map, there are still major parts of the United States with no access.  This is in stark contrast to countries such as Japan that passed a law years ago known as “eJapan”.  Under that law, every home in Japan must have access to Internet speeds of at least 30 MBs.  This was accomplished ahead of schedule and most people enjoy speeds as high as in the 60s.  While the argument can be made that they were able to do this due to the size of their country, it does still show how the United States is falling behind in Internet speeds.

If you are one of the people lucky enough to live in an area with fiber optic service, it should certainly be worth your time and money to switch to this service and enjoy Internet speeds unlike any you have seen before.

Categories: What Is   
 

You see it listed on the vast majority of phones now, or you see people wearing the odd little headsets on their ear with no wires running to them, but what is Bluetooth really?

Over the past few years Bluetooth, a form of wireless communication protocol, has slowly been creeping it’s way on to cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices. You can add it to a desktop computer if you choose to, but it rarely comes pre-installed. The main drive of the technology is allowing you to use wireless headsets with your cell phone, but they also can work well with laptops for when you want to talk on programs such as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

One of the nice things is most Bluetooth headsets can be used with more than one device, so you can use the same one with your phone and your laptop.  In the reverse, most devices can connect to more than one other item, so you can use a Bluetooth headset with your laptop as well as a Bluetooth powered mouse, or use it to connect your phone and laptop together to use it as a modem or sync data.

This technology may seem scary, but most devices come with very easy, straightforward directions that tell you how to “pair” (make it talk to another device) very easily.  Once you have them paired to each other they will continue to recognize one another whenever they are near each other and turned on.

One interesting note is that Bluetooth runs on the 2.4GHz radio frequency, which is yet another item crowding the radio band, and hence why we talked about you may want to buy 5.8GHz cordless phones in the post 2.4 GHz vs 5.8 GHz Cordless Phones.  That is also another point in that Bluetooth is finally creeping into cordless phones, but it is taking some time.

Categories: What Is   
 

Google Chrome is a new web browser from the number one company in search engines, Google.

That being said, is it worth your time to check out?  The “browser wars” that spawned during the Netscape/Internet Explorer days was an ugly time on the Internet as websites fought to figure out how to make themselves look good in both.  This problem still crops up somewhat with Firefox/Internet Explorer/Safari/Opera/Flock out there.  The good news is Chrome is written on the same base code as Safari, so it shouldn’t be too hard for webmasters to get their sites working with this one.

An unusual move here at StarterTech, I’m embedding a screencast of the new browser in use from another site.  This was created by Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins whom I work with over at Mashable.

Mark did a good job of covering the pros and cons of this new tool, but overall it looks promising.  I have been using it for most of the day with little to no problems.  Will it replace Firefox in my life?  For now it won’t due to a lack of addons that I use on a regular basis, but I will be using the two in conjuction when I can.

I will say if you are still just using Internet Explorer, please change.  It is by far the worst browser, and you need to check out alternative browsers for sure.  You could certainly do worse than Chrome, and we will be revisiting this subject as we gain more experience with it.

Have you tried it yet?  What are your thoughts?

Categories: Web Browsing, What Is   
 
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