Posts Tagged 'internet'

YouTube

My wife and her friend get loud when they’re talking on the phone together.

They have such a good time with each other that over the course of their conversations the world gets smaller and smaller until they are barely aware of anything outside of a very small bubble. Inside that bubble there is nothing but their friendship and whatever topic they’re laughing about. Their “bubble-space fun” is great enough that they’ve decided they want to try sharing their fun with the world (or at least a few interested friends) through YouTube.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not an unreasonable thing to try. Though it’s hard to find exact numbers, there are, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of YouTube channels out there that have a sizable following. As of today, YouTube’s statistics page mentions that they have over a million content creators monetizing on their videos with thousands of channels making six figures a year.

But even if getting rich isn’t your aim, what makes a YouTube channel worth watching? How do you make videos that appeal to people?

I am a shift worker, and every two months I rotate between three shifts. Only one of those shifts has reasonable hours, so on my days off while on the other two shifts I often find myself looking to YouTube to help pass the time (I am not much of a night owl). I currently subscribe to 84 channels, though many of those belong to people I know personally who rarely upload anything.

This blog post is not meant to be the end-all, definitive lesson on how to attain success on YouTube. However, I do want to share what keeps me coming back for more from some of my favorite channels, and a few things I’ve learned over the years about this sort of thing.

Disclaimer: if I were really good at this stuff I’d be making a living doing it. The following consists of a lot of conjecture and heartfelt opinions intermingled with some useful facts that I know. And I’m not claiming to be sharing the secret to viral videos or anything – I’m sharing what I know about content production and audience retention. Also, to get the full benefit from this “lesson” you’re going to have to sit through some videos, and a few of them are rather lengthy and not all of them are kid friendly.

Let’s get started.

Conventional wisdom in the entertainment industry seems to be based around the misapplication of a basic (and true) principle of human communication: know your audience. Rather than just knowing their audience, they are trying to know their audience. Like, in bed. They want to give the audience what the audience wants because that’s what makes the audience grow and shell out money. Appeal to the widest possible audience and you’ve got yourself a profitable YouTube channel in no time.

But what about you? Will you be happy? And what of your audience? Will your audience come back for more because they’re interested in what you’ll post next time, or are you just generating views because your videos show a thumbnail that got someone to click on it out of interest (boobs)?

Cyril Connolly said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

I believe that all entertainers should do what they love for their own reasons. Going further than that (here comes your first video assignment, and it’s almost twenty minutes long), Simon Sinek teaches leaders how to inspire people to action by centering everything you do around a primary idea that answers the question, “why?” You will need his advice when planning your content and video “format” (what and how you do what you do).

“Why” is a great place to start. And if you do it right, your “why” is something that is based mostly around feelings. But you’ve got to try to describe it in words.

Now, YouTube is an interesting place. There are a lot of problems with the “audience” on YouTube. The next video I want you to watch covers these issues through a satirical and tongue-in-cheek presentation pretending to be excellent advice on how to run your YouTube channel.

The real trick is in clearly defining why you’re starting your channel and figuring out what kinds of people are going to be watching it. Then you figure out whatever you can about that audience and tailor the presentation to them (not your content).

pewdiepie

pewdiepie (Photo credit: pixesophie)

A great example of this is a guy called PewDiePie. He records himself being an idiot playing video games. As of right now, this guy has over thirteen million subscribers (I am not one of them). YouTube channels that focus on gaming are really big right now. A lot of people want to watch people play video games. But what makes PewDiePie number one?

Another channel I watch from time to time is The Game Theorist. He records videos in which he speculates on gaming related issues, carefully researching the topic and assembling an informed theory to explain what might be going on. He has a great video in which he basically proves that Sonic is not very fast. Very fun videos, but not consistently fun enough to get my subscription.

The Game Theorist did a really great video about why PewDiePie is so popular, and in it he outlines a lot of things that any new content publisher should know.

OK, one more long-ish video that you have to watch all the way through, then we’ll get into individual channels.

This next video is by a guy who I honestly did not expect to subscribe to. I remember the first time I saw one of his videos. I thought, “this guy is ugly, strange, and I do not feel like I connect with him.” That, however, was before I started getting into woodworking. When my wife and I started building a major piece of furniture I began looking for woodworking YouTube videos that were helpful for a novice like me.

That’s when this ugly guy’s channel came back up. After watching a few of his videos I subscribed. Then I found out that he had another channel in which he talks about the videos in his main channel. This intrigued me, so I checked out that second channel. Again, I subscribed.

Then I stumbled upon the following video in his auxiliary channel in which he talks about the video equipment he uses to make videos. But that’s not why I’m having you watch it. I’m having you watch it because the guy is awesome at little tips that make videos better for viewers. His video is kind of long, but it is full of outstanding advice for new channel owners.

If you’ve watched all of the videos I’ve prescribed so far, you’ve just watched 50 minutes and 46 seconds of video. Maybe you did it all in one sitting, maybe you broke it up into manageable segments over the course of a day or more. It’s possible that not all of those videos kept your attention for the entire length, but I’m betting that most of them did (if not all of them). Why did you watch those videos? Not just “because I’m trying to learn how to make good videos.” Really ask yourself, “what kept me watching even though those videos were so long?” If you need to, pick one and go back and watch it again, trying to figure out how the presenter kept your attention.

Now, let’s run through a few of my subscriptions and talk about what I love about them.

When I link to a channel, I recommend you familiarize yourself with their top video (or a few of their top videos). To do this, click on the channel link I provide, then look for the “Videos” tab (next to the little house icon, below the channel name). When the Videos tab first loads their uploads are shown in reverse chronological order (newest videos first). Click on the drop down button that says “Date added (newest – oldest)” and select “Most popular” to view their videos from most to least popular. Then watch at least a few of their top few videos to see what they are like.

The great thing about viewing the most popular video on a channel is that you can see the video that resonated the most with their intended audience. It’s usually the video that initially earned them a strong following of subscribers (but not always).

Alright. I’m not going through these in any particular order (well, except alphabetical order because that’s how I’m viewing the list of my subscriptions).

The first channel I’ll introduce you to feels more like a television show, and perhaps that’s why I’m subscribed. As far as I know, these videos do not air on cable. They are just a YouTube thing, but they have exceptional production value and a pretty nice budget behind them, which leads me to believe that they are professionally produced by a crew that also does television shows.

They do a variety of things on the channel, but the videos I like most are part of a series called “Man at Arms” where a professional blacksmith creates video game character weapons. That particular feature got my subscription, but since then I have enjoyed a few of their other videos as well, videos that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t subscribed. That’s the power of gaining subscribers.

  • Check out this channel: AWE me

This next channel isn’t something that I would have initially thought I’d ever subscribe to (DON’T JUDGE ME). I initially happened upon the channel when I was watching a lot of videos of different accents (I like accents, OK?). The video that got me interested was part of a larger playlist that someone else had put together to showcase accents from around the world. To this day, the video of hers that I saw is still her most popular video (and it’s over two years old).

When watching her video I found that I didn’t just like her accent, I thought she had a lot of fun things to say. So I checked out her more recent videos and found that she was video blogging (vlogging) about a lot of topics in an interesting way (and by interesting I mean that she’s being her own silly self without worrying too much about her audience, though she does ask for suggestions from time to time).

To me, her channel is a great example of what one normal person (and sometimes she has her friends on with her) can do to hold an audience, even without great equipment or professional training. With just over 8,000 subscribers she’s not the biggest channel that I’m covering, but she’s got her audience and she does a good job keeping their attention (though I don’t watch her videos all the way through when they stray too far from my interests — for example sometimes she goes to parties and films it).

Here’s an odd one for you. I subscribed to this guy on a whim when I found a video he posted of a nickel ball that he heated with a blow torch until it was red hot before dropping it in some water. I think Randall Munroe linked to it on his What If blog when referring to the cavitation effect (that’s probably not what it’s called) that occurs when super hot things contact water. Anyhow, the video owner got a sudden surge in traffic for the red hot nickel ball in water video and began doing more videos like it (using the RHNB acronym rather than writing out red hot nickel ball all the time). Now he’s got 45 thousand subscribers that just want to see what he’ll drop his red hot nickel ball onto next. It’s a simple premise, but one that has obviously gained him quite a strong following.

Sometimes the best channels are focused on just one interest. In this next channel’s case, it’s slingshots. In fact, he calls himself “the slingshot channel.” While some of his “slingshot” videos kind of stretch the concept of slingshot (see what I did there?), his razor focus on a single subject secures him a steady viewership that shares his passion. All in all he’s just shy of 300,000 subscribers at the moment, and he really loves making his videos.

I recommend you check out a few of his videos for sure. He is a fun, lovable guy and after watching a couple of his videos you’ll never forget the way he says, “That’s all for today. I hope you liked it. Thanks, and bye bye.” Super great guy.

A while back Google released a product that didn’t make a lot of sense. The Internet was complaining about its price, its unusual technical specifications, and all sorts of other things about it. Then I stumbled upon this guy explaining the features of this product and it totally made sense. This kid is sharp, great at explaining things in a way that is relevant to the average technology user, and really gets into the tech industry to relay the best news to his viewers. And it pays off. He’s got over 500,000 subscribers and through his YouTube income is able to pay for all the neat toys and gadgets he could possibly want. Plus, it seems that some product manufacturers send him their latest gadgets to try out and review on his channel.

In addition to having fantastically well planned content and presentation, he excels at production. His videos are clear and vibrant, and they have outstanding audio quality. When my father moved from newspaper publishing to running a couple dozen news websites for a corporation he had to learn to do web video. In his research he found that the main difference between obviously amateur videos and apparently professional videos was the sound quality. Good sound quality can put your channel in an entirely different category when it comes to perceived quality, and if anyone knows that Marques Brownlee does.

Here’s one of those video game channels. This guy is just plain silly. I found his channel when a coworker showed me a video from a different channel and one of this guy’s videos was a related video. I thought his video was way funnier than the one my coworker shared with me. So I subscribed. His videos are almost all short (2 to 5 minutes) and well edited to contain all of the funniest bits and enough back story to know why they’re funny. Do not show these videos to young children.

This next guy came out of nowhere. As someone who once frequented but now occasionally peruses reddit, I have learned to appreciate the power of certain social media platforms (especially reddit). One day this guy’s first video got posted to reddit when he only had about five videos up (to date he still only has 14 videos posted). The video was an explanation of the book Crime and Punishment and the reddit post title indicated that watching this video would grant me some insight into the book that I previously lacked.

The video delivered on that promise and then some. The production quality leads me to wonder if there isn’t a professional studio behind these videos, but I don’t care if they’re just going to try to sell me something in the end. I subscribed because I want to know as much about literature as this character is going to teach me. These are fantastic videos because they provide a service and do it in a way that is more than just entertaining, it is original. Original ideas (or just ideas that seem original) go a long way so long as they are presented well and given the right exposure.

Back when Lindsey Stirling was on America’s Got Talent and her YouTube channel teamed up with some big shot videographer, I discovered another violin-playing girl with a YouTube channel and I decided that I like her style better. And I’m glad I did, because soon Lindsey’s work began to feel heartless. I think more recently she may be rediscovering her old self, but for a while she lost her way when she lost sight of her “why.”

Anyhow, this other violin player has remained humble, innovative, and relevant to my interests for a couple of years now, and she just released her first original song. She may not have as many fans as Lindsey (only 220,000 subscribers vs. Lindsey’s 3 million), but she is just as talented (if not more) at playing the violin. Just looking at the comments on their videos and channels you can get an idea of how her 220,000 subscribers are just as valuable as Lindsey’s 3 million to someone who is not doing what they do for their audience, but for their self.

OK, just one more. This girl is a member of a game-playing, video-making team called The Yogscast. They actually have a Wikipedia page (yes, they’re that big of a deal and you had no idea they existed). They got their start playing World of Warcraft in a guild called “Ye Olde Goone Squad” (from whence they derive their current name, YOGScast) and eventually gained popularity with their Let’s Play video series about Minecraft.

I don’t really care for most of the Yogscast stuff (though some of it can be pretty fun), but I found Hannah’s channel when I was looking up videos of the recent game The Last of Us. I had heard that the story was good, so I wanted to watch someone play through it. Hannah’s first game play video of the game caught my attention when she cried at the end of the opening sequence. I enjoy her accent, her commentary, and what she adds to the game experience just by being herself. Her videos are pretty long (about 20 minutes on average) but I highly recommend you watch one or two of them. She’s great at holding her audience. She does all of her own video editing, and manages to edit out “boring” parts without making you miss any of the important content of the game.

Alright. That is a good general sampling of channels I subscribe to and why I subscribe. There are quite a few more, of course, but I think these ones are each unique enough that you should be able to figure out what you want to do by watching them do what they love.

I apologize for how freakishly long this is and how clumsy my writing is. I wrote it all out and lost the steam to go back and do a thorough editing.

New Computer? – Start Here

**EDIT**

If you’re just looking for a list of free software to install on your computer, I’ve created a Springpad notebook full of links to my favorites. If I find anything else to add, I’ll put it there.

I want to start out by saying that I am just a guy. I wasn’t paid to write any of this, I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned, and these are all just my opinions. If any of the mentioned companies wanted to pay me because I wrote all these nice things about them, I’d be willing to talk to them about an arrangement. 😉

Having said that, here are the chronicles of my recent adventure procuring and setting up my new laptop. I’m going to break this down into three separate categories: Hardware, Pre-installed Software you Don’t Need, and Free Software you Might Need. Lucky for you, I’m all about free, open-source and simplicity; so the only part that I spent money on was the hardware.

I’ve designed this as a sort of guide to assist YOU in purchasing and setting up a new computer. People are always looking at my glasses. After they get a good look at my glasses, they say, “Hey, I need a new computer. What kind should I get?” People with new computers are always asking me, “Is it better to just use Internet Explorer, or should I get one of those new browsers?” Also, it has been my own experience that just using all of the default software (that ships with the system) for document editing, virus handling, and many other tasks is a bad idea. So, here are all of my answers and tips in one place. This may not be the definitive guide to getting a new computer, but it is MY definitive guide for those who need it.

So, without further chit-chat, let’s look at your hardware options.

HARDWARE

This one’s easier than you might be inclined to believe. Sure there are a lot of choices, but it all comes down to what you want to use the computer for.

The computer I wanted this time around was a laptop I could actually take places. Last time I got a laptop (over five years ago) it weighed ten pounds, it was more of a desktop replacement and cost me over two thousand dollars. Now I’ve got a desktop, and I wanted an inexpensive computer that could go places with me AND do stuff. I’ve got an Asus eee PC (a netbook), but that thing can’t really do stuff. I mean, it can do some stuff (I use it for NaNoWriMo every year), but it’s a little wimpy when it comes to multitasking and other processor/RAM intensive activities.

The Argument for Desktops

First, if you’ve got the space for it and you don’t need to move it, get a desktop. Laptops have really gone down in price lately, but an equivalent (as far as hardware and capabilities) desktop will always cost less than its laptop counterpart (as of this writing).

Desktops have the greatest range in options as well. You can get a cheap-o system that is really only good for running your web browser and a word processor for under a hundred dollars, or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for systems that can perform at speeds rivaling supercomputers. No matter what you’ll be using the desktop for, you can always find a system that perfectly meets your needs without spending more than you have to. Always.

The first step in selecting a desktop is to imagine yourself using that computer for the next two years. What will you use it for? Do you play many games? You might need to spend more for a system that will be compatible with future game releases. Will you be hooking it up to your TV to watch shows and movies? There are a lot of media center pc options. If you’re a Mac person (which, I might be if I had more money), you might want an Apple TV rather than a new computer.

Just decide what you’ll need the computer to be able to do, and consider these simple guidelines (which, unless you’re a “power user,” will more than cover the basics). I don’t need to say it, but if you know enough about computers to know that these guidelines aren’t comprehensive, then these guidelines weren’t written for you.

  • RAM – For most users, this is arguably the most important decision. More RAM means faster, smoother, more powerful computing. You want to open and use every program installed on your computer at the same time? You need lots of RAM. Will you only do one thing at a time for the rest of the time you own the computer? You can get by with 2 Gigs or less (depending on that one program you’ll be running!).
  • Operating System Bits – Related to RAM, but separate, is the operating system you’ll be using. Right away I have to mention that a 32 bit operating system cannot handle a full 4 Gigabytes of RAM, and certainly not more. If you will want 4 Gigs or more of RAM, you’ll need a 64 bit OS. Otherwise, 32 vs 64 bits will not have much of an impact on you.
  • Operating System Flavor – Which OS you choose will depend on many factors, but at the risk of bringing on hoards of criticism, I’m going to go ahead and simplify things this way: If you’re lost when it comes to choosing your operating system, just get Windows 7. Sure, Macs are simple, but getting software for them can be a hassle. Windows may have a poor track-record when it comes to stability and ease of use, but I’m putting a lot of faith in Windows 7, and I think it’s a safe choice for YOU. If you know you want a Mac though, please get it!
  • Processor – When it comes to desktops, you’re really only going to concern yourself with how many cores and processors you want. Adding processors and cores means better ability to process multiple instructions at a time (translating to blazing speed and excellent multitasking), while a single core on a single processor will more than meet the needs of most users. Don’t get the fancy processor set-up unless you know you need it. For most modern operating systems and software, though, I recommend at least a single processor with dual cores. More than that and you’d better be doing some serious video editing or 3D graphics (like games).
  • Hard Drive – If you’re doing video editing or if you’re archiving your DVD collection on the hard drive, get something huge. If you’re just surfing the Internet and writing papers in Word, you don’t need much hard drive space. Even the smallest hard drives shipping these days are more than ample for the average user. Note that media center systems should have more hard drive space to store videos or recorded television.

Sure, there are more factors than just these to consider, but if you’re not a power user who already knows about the other factors, then you don’t need to worry about them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you here.

The only other thing I would caution is to avoid brands you’re not familiar with and be wary of prices that are significantly lower than competing systems with similar capabilities. Your desktop shouldn’t be too expensive, but don’t be a cheapskate once you know what you want. Just pay what the trusted manufacturers are charging.

I currently use a first generation HP TouchSmart for my desktop, and it’s held up very well in the two years we’ve owned it. Both of my laptops are Toshibas, and we love them. Namebrand systems are always a good bet.

Where Desktops Fail

The only problem with a desktop is that it is not very portable. Sure, some of the newer CPU box form-factors (especially in the case of media center computers) are very small and lightweight. However, the screen and input devices are not built in, thus to use the system it must be hooked up to these things, and to move it you have to unplug everything. Convenient? No.

So what if you really need something you can take to class with you? You need either a laptop or a netbook. Can’t decide which one? Consider this:

I thought I could get a netbook and do the same things with it as I do with my laptop. I was wrong. Even with a full size keyboard attached and an external mouse, the netbook screens are too small to be practical in a number of applications. For a true, natural computing experience, you’ll still want a larger system. They make laptops that are much closer in size (and price) to netbooks, but they are much more convenient. If you’re not sure about getting a netbook, don’t. Just go for a smaller laptop. I promise you’ll be happy with it.

If you know you want a netbook, get it. If you’re not sure, don’t. You’ve got to be committed to liking your netbook, or you’re going to hate it.

Other than the netbook vs laptop decision, there isn’t a whole lot more to think about. How portable do you want it? There are a range of sizes from 13 inches to over 18 inches for screens. Some are less than an inch thin, and others have huge 12 cell batteries that lift them about three inches off your table top. Some run hot from having their hardware crammed in to a small space, while others have minimal hardware configurations and are quiet and cool. Again, the considerations for desktops will all hold true for laptops, but you might want to consider the following IN ADDITION to the desktop suggestions:

  • Overall Size – You’re getting a laptop because a desktop isn’t portable enough for you, but how portable do you need your laptop to be? If you are still just going to leave it set up in one place for long periods of time, you might consider a larger desktop replacement laptop. These systems offer the same performance as a desktop, at often competitive prices, but at the end of the day the screen folds up and you can pack it away in a bag. Expect these to weigh close to ten pounds though! Then there are the ultra portables that weigh in at under five pounds (mine weighs like three pounds!). Keep in mind that a netbook can weigh close to one pound, but you’ve already decided you want a laptop, right?
  • Battery Size/Usage – Some laptops these days are being designed as marathon machines. They can squeeze almost a full day of usage out of a single charge, but that efficiency comes at a price (both in dollars and performance). Most laptops are designed to fully contain a six cell battery, but by doubling the number of cells to twelve (and subsequently, increasing the size of the battery pack itself, causing it to protrude out the back or bottom of the computer), you can double the life of the battery. Also, Intel and AMD make processors specifically designed to use less power. They usually run at far less than 2 Gigahertz, and they cannot handle too many big tasks like gaming and video editing as well. You could try, but if that’s what you need the system for (primarily) you’ll just have to charge the system more often.
  • USB Ports – If you use a lot of devices at once, you’ll need at least three USB ports. I always recommend using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop whenever possible simply because they can be replaced much easier than the built-in devices. The less you use them, the less likely they are to break. So, with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, you will want to have at least one more USB port for external hard drives, thumb drives, cameras or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few laptops only have two ports (one on each side), most have three, and a few have up to five USB ports. Get as many as you can without spending too much just for that feature. Also keep in mind that some USB devices have a special “Y” shaped cable that plugs into two USB ports. If you might need one of these devices, you’ll want a laptop with two USB ports that are close together, not one on each side.

In my most recent purchase, I wanted something far more portable than my old laptop but more capable than a netbook. I went with a Toshiba Satellite, ultra thin system. This particular system (like most ultra thin, lightweight systems) does not have an optical drive (no DVD or CD drive). That wasn’t an issue for me because I knew that all of the software I could ever need I was going to download for free once I got it connected to the Internet. If you install a lot of software from disks but still want a system like mine, there are some great external drives that will meet your needs. I may end up getting one too so I can watch movies on my laptop, but for now I’m fine without an optical drive.

Accessories

The final hardware consideration is, what else do you need? Some people need lots of storage but end up choosing a laptop with a smaller hard drive. In that case, just get an external hard drive. Do you transfer a lot of files between systems? Get a thumb drive. Actually, I recommend that people get thumb drives even if they don’t need them for transferring files. They make a great place to keep backups of your most important files.

Keyboard:

The only thing I know you’ll need if you got a laptop is a mouse and keyboard. There’s no getting around it – using the laptop keyboard puts wear on it that could eventually require maintenance. If you use an external keyboard, and it breaks, you can just unplug it and get another one. My favorite typing keyboard ever (that I’ve used anyhow) is the Logitech Classic Keyboard 200. It currently sells for $13.99 on Amazon.com, it is comfortable, and I’ve never had any problems with it. I love it.

Mouse:

I do recommend spending a little more for your external mouse though. Touch pads are great for basic navigation and occasional clicking, but nothing beats a scroll wheel on the Internet, and when doing graphics work or gaming you just can’t live without a mouse. My current favorite is the Microsoft Explorer series. Specifically, my wife and I love our Explorer Mini mice. Amazon.com sells them for about $40, they retail for about $60, and there is currently a vendor on Amazon that is selling them for under $20 (with $4 shipping). The great thing about the Explorer mice is that they will track on literally anything but glass and mirrors (although in some tests these mice have actually tracked on glass and mirrors!). We can use them on shag carpet, glossy surfaces, pitted surfaces, hair, clothing, anything at all, and more. If you want a great mouse, Microsoft actually has a great product.

PRE-INSTALLED SOFTWARE YOU DON’T NEED

All computers come with what is lovingly called “bloat-ware.” This is software that people pay the manufacturer to include pre-installed from the factory. In some ways I guess it’s good because I’d like to think that the money they earn from that endeavor goes toward keeping costs lower for me, but I rather doubt it.

Anyhow, the first program I highly suggest you uninstall (if it’s installed) is Norton Anti-Virus. Many computers come with it pre-installed along with an offer for a whole year or month or day of free updates. It’s not worth it. Microsoft has a free program you can download right away that does the same thing (well, roughly the same thing).

To get rid of Norton (or any program, for that matter), just go to the control panel and look for “Add/Remove Programs” or something like that. Find the offender, click “uninstall,” and follow the directions. Most virus protection software will require that you restart after removing it. That’s OK.

Now, I don’t recommend you leave your computer virus-protection-free for long. It is a dangerous thing. So once you’ve finished uninstalling the crud you don’t need, make sure you immediately download the “essential” software I have listed below, in the order I’ve listed them.

First though, look for any programs that say “offer” or “setup” next to them and get rid of them (still in the Add/Remove Software tool). Also, some systems (most Toshibas and HPs) come with some kind of game portal that you should get rid of.

Many people will tell you to get rid of a lot more than this, but it’s not always necessary. After you’ve been using the computer for a month or so, go back to the Add/Remove Software tool and look over the list. If you recognize the program and you know you use it a lot, don’t get rid of it. If you recognize it and you know you don’t use it a lot, get rid of it (just make sure you know what it does first!). Everything else is probably OK to leave installed.

FREE SOFTWARE YOU MIGHT NEED

Some of these are more essential than others. I’ll categorize them to simplify this. In some cases it won’t matter what program you get as long as you get something that does the job. So, if you’re ready to get started, open Internet Explorer (unless your system came with another browser pre-installed, in which case you should DEFINITELY use the other one!).

Note: This list is designed for Windows users ONLY. Many of these programs are cross platform, but I’m not going to say which ones because I’m not making this list for Mac users. Sorry guys. Maybe another time.

Essential Software

These are programs that you will need to get – almost everyone needs these programs. Right away, before downloading anything, you need virus protection!

  • Virus Protection – Search for “Microsoft Security Essentials,” or go to http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/. Click on the big “Download Now” button, save the executable and run it. Make sure you have already removed any virus protection that shipped with your computer, then close your web browser while the program installs. Once it installs make sure it runs OK, then let it scan your system. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Since this is the first thing you’re doing on your new system, everything should be clean. After it scans your system, you may proceed with this list.
  • New Browser – DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. Sure, there are a lot of sites that require it, but I can show you how to get around that later. For now, just download one or both of the following browsers and try them out. You won’t miss Internet Explorer after a few days. I promise. My favorite is Google Chrome, but I was once a die-hard Firefox fan (I even have an embroidered FireFox shirt). They are both worlds better than IE, more secure, faster, and prettier. While I might catch some heat for this, I am going to recommend that you just get Google Chrome. It’s better. Once you’ve downloaded and selected a new browser, close Internet Explorer and never open it again (unless you really have to).
  • Free Office Software – While there are a few options for this, my favorite (and arguably the most user friendly and robust) is OpenOffice.org. Just go to their website in your new, shiny browser, and download. It’s that easy. The installation is easy and the program operates a lot like Microsoft Office. There are some differences, but OpenOffice.org can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do, and in some cases it does it better. If you ever find that OpenOffice.org just isn’t meeting your needs, feel free to go back to the Microsoft version, but I don’t think most people will ever need to.
  • Media Player – Windows Media Player is pretty good, but there are a lot of things it can’t handle. For everything else, there’s VLC. VLC can’t do everything, but I’ve never found a video it couldn’t play.
  • Photo Organizer – Since most people maintain some kind of image collection (from digital cameras, web graphics, etc.), you’ll probably want a good program to organize and lightly edit those photos. Google Picasa is a great product that is completely free and I recommend it to everyone.

Everything Else

Those, to me, represent the bare-bones necessities for a new computer. If you get nothing else, make sure you get those things. The remainder of my list is specific to my needs and wants, based on what I want to use the computer for. If you know of other great free programs that aren’t listed here, please add them in the comments.

  • Dropbox – This is a really cool file program. It creates a special folder that automatically backs itself up online any time you add or change files in the folder. If you install Dropbox on other computers and link them with your account, Dropbox will synchronize all of the folders across all of the computers and devices you have Dropbox installed on. I love it.
  • Notepad ++ – If you do any web development or coding the old fashioned way (in notepad) you might want to try Notepad ++. I found this little gem several years ago and have installed it on all of my computers ever since.
  • Skype – For video calls and VoIP, my favorite is still Skype. We’ve been using it for quite a while now and we love it.
  • Google Talk – Actually, I didn’t download the Talk program, I installed the Video and Voice plug-in. While most of our video chats are handled over Skype, we have more friends with Google accounts than Skype accounts. With this plug-in, I can have a video call with any Google Talk contact who is also using the plug-in or the desktop client. I’ve only done it once, and it was a long time ago, but this is a valuable thing to have on standby.
  • Google Earth – There’s nothing cooler than exploring your planet in 3D with a nearly infinitely scalable, detailed and textured model with Google Maps plastered all over it. This is as fun as it is useful.
  • Google SketchUp – I am a bit of a 3D hobbyist, and SketchUp is a great way to rapidly visualize a model. It’s a wildly different experience from most of the 3D software I’ve used, but once I got the hang of it I realize it was easier and more intuitive than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s free!
  • Blender – On the subject of 3D, how does a free 3D program with advanced features sound? SketchUp may be easy and fast, but it’s not anywhere near Blender’s level. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Blender is extremely un-intuitive to learn. However, I’ve seen what it can do, and I’m impressed enough to trudge over the learning curve and figure it out.
  • Paint.NET – If I’m going to make awesome 3D images in Blender, I’ll need software like Photoshop to make textures, composites, do touch-ups, and more. Windows Paint won’t do any of that. In fact, Paint is nearly useless. Luckily, there’s a better Paint. This program can do layers, adjustments, transparency and even some cool effects. Sure, there’s a lot that it can’t do, but it’s free. If it does what you need it to then you’ve lost nothing, right? I even made the cover for my new book entirely in Paint.NET.
  • Inkscape – Paint.NET can handle most of my 2D needs, but it is primarily for raster images (bitmaps). For vector images, I love Inkscape. It’s relatively easy to learn, and it can handle almost anything you can dream up.
  • GIMP – Many people believe GIMP capable of anything Photoshop can do. I don’t agree, but I do think GIMP is better than Paint.NET for more advanced jobs. A lot like Blender, I find GIMP hard to learn, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I want to learn it so I can see how long I can live without Photoshop. Someday I’ll be rich and it won’t matter. Until then, I’ll be struggling with GIMP.
  • WavePad – I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s a free audio editing tool that I hope will allow me to make simple audio tracks for animations or an audio book. We shall see. Once I’ve tried it, I’ll write a review (and link to it from here).
  • VideoPad – Like WavePad, I downloaded this to see if it would be suitable for creating simple promotional or family videos. I just want to be able to cut scenes together, edit things out and add simple effects. If this program is a winner, I’ll write a review.

CONCLUSION

I hope this helped. As I use my system and learn more about what programs are meeting my needs and which ones I don’t have that could help, I may modify this list.

I’m 100% sure of all of the hardware tips though, as well as the “essential software” bit. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of free programs out there that you can find that will do the same things that more expensive software can do. Look to the free stuff first, and if it doesn’t work out, pay for what you need.

Good luck and happy computing!

Author Page at Amazon

It’s official! I have an author page at Amazon.com. When people search for me or any of my books, a link to my page shows up. Anything I’ve written is listed, I’ve got a cute little biography there, and you can even see posts to this blog from there!

For now there’s not a whole lot else there. In the future I can list events like book signings or readings there, and if I ever do a video showing off my book, I’ll post it there. Discussion forums can be set up where I can respond to reader questions too. I hope some of you who are reading my book right now (or in the near future) will start discussions there on what you’re reading.

If this is your first time seeing my blog, I just wanted to provide you with a few links to some past articles you might enjoy.

Don’t forget to enter my book giveaway contest, and I look forward to interacting with readers through Amazon.com!

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This is Funny

I found this cruising around the Internet one day and just had to repost it. Really, I’m usually pretty good about sharing a link to where I find things, but in this case I think it just came off imgur.com or something.

Anyhow, this is awesome:

Unique

I often feel like that poor fork – contorted and twisted nearly beyond recognizability. However, I’d like to think that my deformities lend me some redeeming usefulness that poor fork will never offer.

That’s what I’d like to think, anyhow…

Official Book Giveaway 2

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This contest has ended. Thank you to all who entered. See the post-contest analysis post.

Facebook Drives Me Nuts

Book Giveaway Sweepstakes (round 2)

Official Rules

1. Eligibility

This drawing is open to anyone in the U.S. with a brain except:

  • Anyone who is Brian Haddad (the author of the book to be given away), his wife, children or pets.
  • The winners of the previous sweepstakes of the same title (you already have one of my books, I’m not giving you another one).
  • People who have mailing addresses outside of the United States of America.
  • Non U.S. citizens. This is mostly just to cover myself. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, I’m sorry. Maybe next time?

If you don’t meet any of those criteria, you are eligible to enter and win this drawing. Just to be clear: zombies do not have brains, so if you are a zombie please do not enter the contest.

2. Prizes

There are a total of ten (10) copies of Facebook Drives Me Nuts that will be signed by the author, defaced inside with a page full of doodles and mailed to five lucky winners. The prize is valued at over one million dollars ($1,000,000), but the actual monetary value of the prize is none of your business. The book retails for $12.99 in case you are interested.

The losers will be notified that they lost by way of a personal email or message from Brian Haddad, along with a consolation prize consisting of a group of seemingly random characters that serve as a discount code that can be used at https://www.createspace.com/3422240 when checking out to receive almost a full $3.50 off the price of the book.

3. How to Enter

Go to the official entry form and fill it out after the contest begins on Wednesday, January 27th.

Because Brian Haddad is a generous administrator of awesome contests, here are the elements of the form and how they affect your chances of winning:

Name, Email and Mailing Address

Seriously, do you need me to explain why these are necessary to win? Your information will only be used for this contest. I promise not to sell, disclose or lose your information to any person, business or other entity. If you have any questions, please post a comment on this page and I will address them.

Reading Habits (1 & 2), and Reviewing Habits (1 & 2)

People who lie to me here will not win. It’s plain and simple. I want people who are honest about how much they read and how they review what they read.

Write a Review

A link to three of my short stories is provided in the application form, and you are expected to review one of them. If you won’t even read a single short story that I wrote, I’m not sending you a whole book. Plus, I want people who can review what they read, even if they hate it. Loving or hating the short story you read will not alter your odds of winning, so don’t suck up thinking you’ll get a free book out of it. Just write a good review, clearly stating your opinion. A good sense of humor will be rewarded.

Dedication and Essay

These are your last chances, so make a good effort here. Convince me to send you a free copy of my book. Make me smile, chuckle, laugh or wet my pants, and I’ll throw some super-fun doodles in your prize in unexpected places. Please remember to keep it clean and mostly appropriate though. My wife will be helping me judge these, and if my six-year-old sees any dirty responses, I’ll take video of him crying himself to sleep and send it to you.

Beyond the official entry form, no other purchase, comment, communication or bribe will increase your odds of winning. Love letters in the comments on this page, on Facebook or by email couldn’t hurt though.

4. Deadline

Brian Haddad will stop taking entries after Saturday, March 20th, at which point the official application form will be taken down. If it is not taken down, and you submit an application, you still can’t win after the deadline.

5. Winning

The winner will be chosen from among qualifying applications that meet the criteria above. If more than ten (10) applicants meet the criteria, the author’s daughter will be handed a dowsing rod which she will use to select the winners. Winners will be selected and notified no later than one week after the close of the contest, or by Saturday, March 27th, 2010.

6. Other Details

Brian Haddad and his spouse are not eligible to enter the drawing. Neither are their past, present or future children or pets.

To ensure fair consideration, those entries that do not adhere to the rules and submission standards will be disqualified.

Brian reserves the right to use a winner’s partial name, quote, likeness or descriptive essence for publicity and promotional purposes. In fact, after you’ve read his book, he would appreciate if you wrote some kind of review or testimonial that he can use to promote the book. Rating and reviewing the book on Amazon.com would be rewarded with one thousand (1,000) rainbow unicorn kisses.

This contest and drawing is void where prohibited. There is no purchase necessary to enter or win. Not only that, but there is nothing that you could possibly buy that would help you win. Money does not buy happiness. Late or incomplete entries will not be accepted. Brian Haddad is not responsible for lost, stolen, late or misdirected entries. In the event that a user submits more than one entry, the author will chose which ever entry he sees fit. It is in your best interest to submit only one (1) entry.

Any Last Words?

Once you have read and understood these instructions and rules, please proceed to the entry form and fill it out completely. Good luck!

Official Book Giveaway 1

Facebook Drives Me Nuts

This contest has ended. Thank you to all who participated. The Official Book Giveaway 2 is now live.

For those who are interested (namely, the people in the list below), here were the rules for round one. I tried to make them as entertaining to read as possible, so I recommend reading them through to the end.

Facebook Drives Me Nuts

Book Giveaway Sweepstakes

Official Rules

1. Eligibility

This drawing is open to a specific list of individuals. To see if you are eligible, please look for your Facebook name on this list:

  • Amber Napoleon
  • Annie H
  • Autumn Flynn
  • Basia Opalska
  • Becky Fletcher
  • Chalyn Elking
  • Christopher Johnson
  • Jacob Haddad
  • Jennifer Bernarducci
  • Jessica Johnson
  • Jocelyn Udall
  • Jon N Hannah Moses
  • Katie Hill Anderson
  • Kelsey Hunter
  • Keturah Wojtanowski
  • Luke Haddad
  • Melodie Brooke Hammett
  • Pascale Koys
  • Rachel Jones
  • Rob Shively
  • Rudolph Oosthuizen
  • Russell Roberts
  • Spencer Bawden
  • Tony Leonhardt
  • Victoria Scott

If you did not find your name, never fear. A future drawing is being planned that will be open to anyone who sees the contest rules. Be patient and watch my Facebook notes and https://mereman.wordpress.com for future contest announcements.

2. Prizes

There are a total of three (3) copies of Facebook Drives Me Nuts that will be signed by the author, defaced inside with a page full of doodles and mailed to three lucky winners. If more than ten enthusiastic entries are received, the number of winners may increase, at the discretion of Brian Haddad, to a maximum of five (5). The prize is valued at over one million dollars ($1,000,000), but the actual monetary value of the prize is none of your business. The book retails for $12.99 in case you are interested.

The losers will be notified that they lost by way of a personal email or message from Brian Haddad, along with a consolation prize consisting of a group of seemingly random characters that serve as a discount code that can be used at https://www.createspace.com/3422240 when checking out to receive almost a full $3.50 off the price of the book.

3. How to Enter

For this contest, send Brian Haddad a Facebook message with your mailing address somewhere in the body. People posting their mailing addresses on Brian’s wall or as comments on this note or Brian’s status will not be entered into the contest. They will, in stead, be ridiculed, laughed at, and possibly sent junk mail after making their addresses publicly viewable.

While this is a random drawing, there is also an element of competition. Those who apply first and those who express the greatest interest in winning will be preferred. After entering, writing love notes to Brian, posting enthusiastic comments about how great the book must be and how excited you are to read it, and generally sucking up to Brian Haddad will increase your odds of winning.

4. Deadline

Brian Haddad will stop taking entries after Saturday, February 6th, but those wishing to improve their odds may continue sucking up to him until the shipment of books arrives (expected to be sometime around the middle of February, but could be much sooner).

In the event that the shipment of books arrives early, if Brian Haddad has already decided who he will pick as the winners, he will stop taking entries, even if February 6th has not arrived.

5. Winning

The winner will be chosen at random from among the entries. OK, that’s a lie. The winner will be chosen from among the entries, but Brian Haddad will essentially decide who to send the prizes to based on the sincerity of their interest in the book, the enthusiasm with which they have engaged in showing him that they want to read his book, and how well he thinks they will be able to entice others to read the book. More than three individual entries may meet this criteria, in which case Brian will select the winners randomly.

6. Other Details

Brian Haddad and his spouse are not eligible to enter the drawing. Neither are their children or pets.

To ensure fair consideration, those entries that do not adhere to the rules and submission standards will be disqualified.

Brian reserves the right to use a winner’s partial name, quote, likeness or descriptive essence for publicity and promotional purposes. In fact, after you’ve read his book, he would appreciate if you wrote some kind of review or testimonial that he can use to promote the book. Rating and reviewing the book on Amazon.com would be rewarded with one thousand (1,000) rainbow unicorn kisses.

The drawing is void where prohibited. Late or incomplete entries will not be accepted. Brian Haddad is not responsible for lost, stolen, late or misdirected entries.

Winning or losing does not in any way imply that you are a good or bad friend. Losing does not imply that you are loved less than the winners. Anyone suggesting or attempting to imply that their status as a winner or loser in this contest is indicative of the strength of their relationship to Brian Haddad will be banned from future contests and may lose their Facebook Friend status with Brian Haddad.

On Electronic Chain-Letters

I’ve been sick, and I’ve felt like writing, but I didn’t know what to write. Funny thing about inspiration though, it can hit you at any time, and in any text box. I just happened to get the urge to write while responding to an email, and the result was something I wanted to share with everyone.

Blah

I'm not fat - I'm puffing my cheeks.

Hey there. I’m sick today, and I lack the will to do anything except sleep, sit at the computer or at the couch, and do almost nothing. I’ve been thinking for quite some time that I’d like to write an unnecessarily lengthy letter to someone in my immediate or extended family, and since you’re my father-in-law and we haven’t exchanged words in a while, you win the prize.

So, when you forwarded that “touching true story” I thought I’d take a look at it rather than AUA it (Archive Upon Arrival).

The fact of the matter is, that I don’t care for forwards. I’ve got one friend (that’s one person, in the whole of my 200+ email contacts) that has ever forwarded me anything I thought was interesting. Most of the forwards I receive are silly “touching stories” that really don’t mean much to me. I’ve had too much experience with fabricated and embellished stories on the Internet, I suppose.

Anyhow, a really good friend of mine introduced me to snopes.com last year, and ever since then I have used it when faced with something on the Internet that seems outlandish. A quick query on snopes.com revealed a most interesting article written specifically about the email you passed along today. Interestingly, this particular story actually has quite a few true elements in it (most of the stories I have seen circulated in email forwards are so exaggerated and embellished that they are rarely representative of any truth that may have served as their premise). However, several key facts were changed and exaggerated.

The story took place in the early eighties, the boy’s name was Frank, and the Make-a-Wish foundation actually granted this as a wish (along with a ride in a hot-air balloon, and a trip to Disneyland). The most touching part of the real story doesn’t even appear in the email, and to make it worse, the email is copied nearly word for word from one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. The night that the boy died, it was five firemen that climbed into his room, not sixteen.

Here’s the link to the true account (along with the version of the email that the author saw, which is slightly different still from the one you sent me):

http://www.snopes.com/glurge/fireman.asp

So, yes. The story is touching, but I hate reading these stories in email forwards because they are almost all full of embellishment and twisted truths. I find it much more satisfying to scour the news for heartwarming articles that are presented as a collection of facts with the purpose of informing the reader. That way I’m getting completely true stories, which are better than the big, bold, colorful words (usually in the Comic Sans font) that have been changed or invented to elicit an “oh, how darling” response and usually wrap up with a self-righteous plea from the author to get me to say a prayer for some cause (usually, something I don’t care about).

In my view, the Internet is only good for six things, and half of them I don’t want any part of (pornography, gambling and robbery). The only three things I use it for are (presented in order of the value I place on them):

  1. Humor/Entertainment
  2. Communication (keeping in touch with close friends and family)
  3. Access to accounts and services (banking, on-demand-self-publishing services, etc.)

Even getting factual news on the Internet can be a challenge. My father runs the Internet arm of a newspaper corporation in Arizona, and this is a problem they deal with on a regular basis. Sure, there are news sources on the Internet that can be trusted, but they are drowned out by all the chatter and clutter from sources like the mysterious writer of that email you sent me (who, again, did little more than poorly copy another “touching” email, which was nearly a direct copy of a segment of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book).

So, I just use the Internet to look at fun stuff, like this article and clip from Robert Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech. Occasionally there is some interesting news at those trusted sites, like this article about a group of apes that had never had human contact before. Mostly, the Internet loves things that are silly and irreverent, like this historical look at a group of entertainers known throughout history as fartistes, among other names.
The main reason I love the Internet, though, is because of people like David Thorne. I really can’t explain all that well what it is that I love about his work, but I would encourage you to read this email exchange he had with his renters, and this exchange he had with a Blockbuster employee. He is extremely irreverent and at times a tad inappropriate. However, he is a comedic genius. After one of his earliest email exchanges went viral a coworker told David that he would never be able to do it again. David bet him his Christmas bonus that he could, and two weeks later he had another email exchange that went viral.

Essentially, what I love about David Thorne is that he embodies the idea that the Internet is not to be taken seriously. He is quoted as saying, “the Internet is a playground.” I agree, and that is why I don’t like coming across stories that are supposed to be “touching” on the Internet, unless they come directly from trusted news sources. If they don’t come from a trusted news site, then I’m a sucker for believing them until I’ve researched the facts myself.

As you can see, between David Thorne, funny/interesting stuff that comes to me in my feed reader, and finding funny videos like these ones, the Internet provides me with far more entertainment than I even have time for. It barely even leaves me time to read email, especially forwards. However, next time I get a forward from you that claims to tell a “true” story, I’ll check the facts on fark.com and tell you what they say. Sometimes the truth is better than the lies that circulate in chain-emails.

I hope you enjoy the links I’ve provided you with, and we all here love and appreciate the effort you make to maintain a presence in our life. Your daughter and grandchildren send their love, as do I.

Love,

-Brian

Fun YouTube and Others

From Cell Phone Photos

So, this is for my friends. Specifically, I was talking to someone tonight about some fun stuff on YouTube and I decided to make a list of some of my recent favorite songs, videos and artists to share.

I’ve spent the last few minutes reviewing most of these videos because I tend to forget the presence of little offensive words here or there. For the most part, these songs or videos will be marked to warn you if you might want to watch before showing your children. However, my kids have seen most of these, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

All links open in a new window, so click away!

Robots

This song is by Flight of the Conchords, and as such has a curse word in it (wrong word for donkey/butt) so you may not want to show it to your kids. However, if you don’t mind them hearing that one word a few times in the chorus, this is a really funny song/performance. Check it out on YouTube.

Star Wars Rap

This song has a few mature elements that are reference but not explicitly talked about, and they use one word that you may not want your child repeating (a less than kind word for urine). To check it out, click through to Atom.com and watch this hilarious Star Wars themed rap. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you should enjoy this.

Tighty Whities

Next I’ll share a song that may not be your style if you generally only listen to country music or classical, but the theme is too funny not to share the song. Plus, it’s completely clean as far as language and themes are concerned. It’s part of the “Pull ’em Up Campaign” aimed at getting people to pull their pants up and quit showing us their underwear. Even if you generally can’t stand rap, you’ve GOT to listen to this song. I didn’t let my son hear this one, but not because of the content.

OK, the rest should be fine for your children. Well, this first one might not be if you don’t want your children watching animals answer nature’s call. It’s completely natural though! This is Rhett and Link doing an “inappropriate” commercial for a small zoo.

Inappropriate Zoo Commercial

For a direct link, click here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kszzbkfJ-5Q

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton is a musical comedic genius in my book, and here are two completely kid friendly songs (unless you strictly don’t expose them to violent themes, then the second one about zombies killing people probably won’t be good). These are both live performances (where you get to see his funny interactions with the audience) but he does studio recordings as well that are better sounding.

Skullcrusher Mountain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IBewKuV9BQ

Re: Your Brains

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e3gngvFdxg

For more about Jonathan Coulton, please visit his website.

This one may only appeal to your children (or the child in you), but it’s a cute stop motion animation that I recently got a chuckle out of.

8-Bit Water Slide

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkYVazguJCY

Also for the children, a few near-Pixar quality animations that are funny, entertaining and good for adults also!

Pigeon: Impossible

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEjUAnPc2VA

The Passenger

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGW0aQSgyxQ

The Magic Box

(Ultra sensitive parents be warned: This video contains partial nudity – butt cheeks.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC7rIZ5dOPY

A Little More Fun and Then We’re Done

OK. I’ve embedded way too many videos, so the final four videos will just be links. They are all funny, so make sure you watch them, but the last two you might want to watch without your kids the first time you watch them. I’ll mark them with an asterisk (*) to remind you that you need to review them before showing them to your children.

Laughing Kids (very cute)

Kid Singing Britney Spears Scared to Death by his Mom (watch all the way through to the end)

No. No! NO!!!” – The Greatest Scare Prank *

Gun Scare Prank *

I know there is a lot here, but I don’t see how you couldn’t love most of these. 😀 Of course, if you don’t love them, I won’t be offended, but I do ask that you at least check them all out when you find the time.

Enjoy!

Internet Security (in my view)

This is a lengthy response to a friend who wrote me with the following inquiry (to protect her privacy, her name does not appear):

Hey Brian,

You guys have a channel on YouTube, right? I was just curious about what you think about it. I would like to do one (all kid videos) for the convenience, but I’m worried about weirdos watching videos of my kid. I’ve tried to do a private video before, but it’s such a pain. What’s your advice?

Thanks!

Here is my long answer:

Warning: You asked. Don’t blame me for the long response. 😀

Disclaimer: I didn’t take the time to edit this that I should have. I didn’t edit for sensitivity, so please don’t be offended if I come off as insensitive. I didn’t edit for perfection. Perfection is not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. This letter is long because I lack the time to make it shorter. It is, however, full of good, important, and heartfelt information related to sharing YouTube videos publicly, and Internet security (keeping things private versus making them public).

In a nutshell, I love having a public YouTube channel. 😛 You should totally go for it.

I used to go to great lengths to keep all of my Internet presence private and secret. A Google search once upon a time would have revealed nothing about me, I never received any spam, and there was no possible way for anyone to stalk me by online information alone. Then I got into website design and began to learn more about online security.

The truth is that nothing is truly private on the Internet unless you have either done the research and designed the security protocol yourself, or you are paying money to have a security firm protect your data for you. Sure, services like Blogger, YouTube, and Picasa offer settings to keep things “private” (meaning unlisted, non-public), but if someone had a reason to get information about you and they were going to dig around in the Internet to do so, having a private blog or private videos wouldn’t stop them.

Blogs, social networking sites and content sharing sites have “private” settings that lull us into a false sense of security, but they offer little more protection than a sticker in your window claiming your home is protected by a high tech, expensive security system; and a deadbolt. Small time and unmotivated criminals will often turn around and go home (in fact, this is a proven method that I heard can prevent something like 60 to 90 percent of all break-ins), but anyone with an objective or strong motive will likely be undeterred.

Most passwords you use to protect your data can be revealed to any tech-savvy twelve year old with a Play Station 2. That’s right, Play Station 2 machines are being employed by amateur and professional hackers all over the world to crack passwords online due to their ability to do thousands of floating point calculations every second. Your WEP password protected WiFi signal? I can hack that in ten to twenty minutes using a laptop running software that reconstructs your password just based on your wireless traffic. (By the way, NEVER use WEP for a wireless Internet connection – always use WPA or WPA II – WPA takes a little longer to crack, unless the FBI is hacking in, they can do it in three minutes.) Oh, and passwords are the strongest when they are at least 12 to 20+ characters long. It doesn’t matter if it’s all special characters, length alone can protect you from these hackers.

The point being, I realized several years ago that if anyone were truly interested in getting in on my private life, my setting things up as “private” wasn’t going to stop them. So I gave up and made everything public.

The easiest way to keep things secure is to monitor what you share. On our family blog I have our phone number posted. It’s a Google Voice number. It’s not associated with my address, it’s not associated with my social security number or any of my financial information. If people dial it, it goes through a simple, mostly convenient screening process before my phone rings. When I pick up, I hear “You have a call from [it plays a recording of them stating their name here]. To pick up press one, to send to voice mail, press two,” … etc. I can share my phone number anywhere because it’s secure. If someone who calls is already in my address book, they aren’t screened. I can define certain behaviors for when they call. When my family calls, they hear a specialized greeting while my phone rings, then when I pick up it tells me who they are. I can still send them straight to voice mail if I want, but why would I do that? 😉

The basic idea is to only publish things that aren’t a vulnerability (like my secure telephone number, which doesn’t create a vulnerability).

My YouTube videos are all public. Sure, a few random people may have seen some of them (in fact, my first and only comment was left by a complete stranger earlier this week – I’ve been posting my family videos there for over a year now). But most of the views are from family and friends that I direct there myself (I just wish THEY would leave comments o_O). The fact that those videos are public just makes it easier for my friends and family to enjoy them without having to go through an annoying screening process.

Some people who choose the public route choose not to put full names online (like omitting their last name, or only posting their last name) while I’ve known some people who only use nicknames on their website. You can take that route if you like, but it’s just another silly sticker. I just throw it all out there.

To quote your reason for writing:

“I would like to do [a YouTube channel] (all kid videos) for the convenience, but I’m worried about weirdos watching videos of my kid. I’ve tried to do a private video before, but it’s such a pain. What’s your advice?”

In the security profession, there is a saying. I don’t know it word for word, but it comes down to the fact that you can’t have both convenience and security. They are polar opposites and arch enemies. Any security you add will take away from convenience and convenience is not secure. So you have to weigh whether you want more security or more convenience. In this case, which is of more value? The security that you are considering implementing (private videos) is weak and cannot deliver the level of security that you believe you will be getting. So you can chose to implement it, but for what? To make it a pain for your friends and family to share in your fun family moments?

You state that your primary concern is weirdos watching videos of your kid. So you don’t take your child out in public? Sure, it may seem that the ratio of weirdos to normals on the Internet is scary, but it’s no different from when you’re at the mall. Besides, most of those weirdos who you don’t want watching videos of your kid are using torrent file sharing networks to distribute and view illegal, disturbing images of children that are much more entertaining to them than watching your child burp and giggle. The odds of them locating you online or in a mall and tracking you to your home to do you evil are relatively low.

My advice specific to your inquiry? Go for the convenience and quit worrying about implementing useless security features. To take it just a small step further, drop the private settings from your blog too. I guarantee you have at least one family member somewhere who isn’t reading your blog because they don’t want to deal with the complicated security settings you’ve set up. Even Rochelle doesn’t keep up with your blog regularly because she can’t subscribe with her RSS feeder due to your security settings.

The question remains, well if that sticker in the window really does deter crime, why drop the security settings even if they are weak? Should I just publish my passwords everywhere too? Here are a few simple things you should do that provide a greater level of security than keeping your blog and videos “private” in public:

  1. Never ever ever ever post your full address anywhere where just anyone can read what you wrote. Keep in mind that a lot of things these days are being automatically tagged with geological meta data (translation: some kind of GPS coordinates or location information collected by the device that recorded the data). So if someone wanted to know your physical location it wouldn’t be hard to track you down, but if they aren’t planning on paying you a visit and they need your address for financial reasons, you’ll have thwarted them by not posting your city, state, zip or street anywhere online (unless you’re making a secure payment or transaction, in which case you NEED to see some kind of “secure” symbol on the page and in the browser interface AND the web address should start with “HTTPS” not “HTTP” alone).
  2. Going along with the first tip, the names of schools, work places, etc. give easy ways to track down where they can find you. Don’t share that stuff online. If your family needs to know where John is working, call them. Don’t put the name of the company online.
  3. Obviously, keep all financial information private. Even how much you make should be kept extremely vague if you must share (certain income brackets represent prime targets for some criminals, you don’t want to call their attention). Something like, “John got a raise and now we don’t have to buy gas with the change we collect under vending machines anymore,” is perfect.
  4. Be smart. If you wouldn’t walk up to a total stranger and share it, your family doesn’t care either. And I’m talking about when you’re in a giddy mood about something when you tend to share things with strangers anyhow. Like when your kid does something cool and you just want to tell the world. That’s the stuff your friends and family are interested in. Share that.

I’m fairly certain you knew most of that. Just keep in mind there are only two kinds of criminals on the Internet you need to worry about. Perverts and Identity Theives.

Let’s say you open everything up to the public today (your blog, your YouTube videos, your photos, EVERYTHING online except your Facebook profile which should retain the highest level of security you can live with). Here are the two worst case scenarios, one from each type of bad guy.

Pervert. He sees a video of your kid and decides he needs to steal him from you. He is able to pay a twelve year old to hack into YouTube and provide him with some location meta data attached to the video by your computer when you uploaded it from your home Internet connection. The guy flies out to your city from San Francisco (there are a ton of nuts there, he’s likely from the city of nuts and fruit) and spends the next month trying to track you down from the vague location data the kid sold him for fifty dollars. Eventually, he finds your home and begins the process of trying to abduct the boy the same way any pervert would without the use of the Internet. Hopefully you guys would be prepared to handle that. The Internet pervert won’t be armed with any additional information that a street stalker couldn’t get without the Internet. Think about all the information you’ve opened up to the public. Is the key to your front door online? No. Public videos don’t give the online pervert any extra ammo.

Identity Thief. He finds your videos, watches your child, and doesn’t care. In the video though he sees that you have a new forty inch flat screen tv (a group of kids walking around in your neighborhood is just as likely to notice your tv and either do the heist themselves or sell your address as a target to some other thief). You must have some money. Not a lot, but who cares? He is able to link you YouTube channel to your blog by reverse following the links. He reads up on you, gets your physical location, etc. So what? In the end he doesn’t have anything more than a person digging through your garbage would have (unless you’re someone who throws credit card numbers away in tact by accident, in which case your trash can is a much bigger security problem to you than having a public blog would be!).

Obviously this is pretty watered down. There are a lot more threats out there on the Internet, but most of them you are already safe from (you stay out of the shady parts of the Internet, right?). In truth though, worrying about the threats won’t do any good. Keep your home secure like you always should, teach your children about the dangers on the outside, and you will have completely thwarted all perverts, online and off line. Monitor your credit, keep your financial information private, and just be smart, and you’ll be safe from all the other ones. Finally, I recommend passwords that are as long as you can make them (don’t go for complicated, just long – a password doesn’t have to be just one word, do a sentence), and DON’T use Internet Explorer. Use Firefox or Google Chrome (Rochelle and I love Chrome – it’s fast, super secure and gets information about how safe a website is from Google, and they know everything).

Those are my thoughts on Internet security. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but once you get the basic, truly secure ideas in practice, you can relax and quit worrying about everything. OK?

I just have to say it one more time though (since I only mentioned it in passing before). Your Facebook page is the one place you do need to worry about security. Keep that as secure as possible. Don’t let Facebook share things about you that you don’t want shared. You are in control of what you share on your blog, but you have things on Facebook that you might think Facebook is only sharing with your friends, and if you don’t correctly adjust your security settings Facebook might share that information with other sites or people. Look online for help keeping your social networking sites secure, but look to your heart and your brain about what to put on your blog and YouTube channel.

Thanks for reading!

Your friend,

Brian


I Won (again)!

**Edit**
I’ve got a new page where you can view everything I’ve written that has been published. Please visit the My Published Books/Works page and check them out!

My NaNoWriMo story is done this year (as of yesterday). I broke the 50,000 words mark by just over 200 additional words, uploaded my document for an official word count, and I’ve won. Sometime next week they’ll post the code for the free proof copy from Amazon’s CreateSpace. My book from last year has been published (though in its unedited, raw form) mostly just for fun. This year I’m going to heavily edit and revise my book before submitting it for publishing because I actually like this one better. Here’s a preview of the rough cover I made for it:

Facebook Drives Me Nuts

Facebook Drives Me Nuts

You can view my author bio and novel info at the NaNoWriMo site here.


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