Category Archives: Tips for Living Life Online

Lessons on living life online safely, effectively and with as much fun as possible!

Mmmmm….Yummly

Happy 4th of July!…a little early. For the month of July, Learning for Life Online will higlight tools that help with party and travel planning. From holiday BBQs to potlucks to block parties, from a day trip to a two-week vacation, online tools can make organizing people and things easy as pie.

For those last-minute recipes for 4th of July cookouts, let’s start with the best recipe-finder I’ve seen: Yummly.

What Is It?

Yummly logoYummly is a specialized search engine just for recipes. You type in words to search for – “avocado salad” – and then let Yummly deliver you hundreds of recipes that match those terms.

Limits for searching on Yummly.comThat would be useful enough, but Yummly uses limits – called facets – to let you narrow the list of results down to exactly what you’re looking for.

Use the top two fields to find recipes that do or do not have specific ingredients by typing next to the minus or plus signs. Click on and slide the grey dots under Taste to choose the flavors in your recipes. Like salty food? Slide the Salty facet over to the right. Hate Spicy food? Slide the Spicy facet all the way to the left. Leave any that you don’t care as much about in the middle at No Preference.

Blow these facets, click on the boxes next to Allergies and Diets to find recipes that are good for people with those needs, and use the sliders under Nutrition to find healthier options. Other limit options include specific budgets, courses, time you to prepare, holidays and more.

For all of these facets, click on the box or pull the slider to change the option, then click again or pull the slider another way to change them back. You don’t need to redo your search or use the Back button to get back to where you were.

The search results down the middle of the screen list the ingredients for easy choosing, and each recipe has a star rating for quality. Click on a dish to see the whole recipe with instructions and nutritional information. Email yourself the recipe for later use, or print it out.

Each recipe has a suggested number of servings, but if you need more or fewer, just change the number in the box and click on Change. The recipe quantities [should] change to make the new number of servings. [Note: as of post time, this feature wasn’t working quite right. We hope it comes back soon!]

You can do all of this without signing in or creating an account, but if you set up a Yummly account, you can also Favorite and Save recipes, add ratings, and do many other things.

How Is It Useful?

Just imagine: you’re cooking dinner for 6 friends, one of whom is a vegetarian and another who has a gluten allergy. You are allergic to tomatoes. You’re serving roast chicken, but you need help with the side dishes and an entree for your vegetarian friend. Search on the word “pasta” or “salad,” then use the facets to find vegetarian gluten-free recipes to complete your menu. Add any ingredients you have already, and exclude anything with tomatoes in them. What would have taken many searches using different recipe sources online (like Epicurious or Food Network) happens in minutes using Yummly.

Try It Out

Cooking for the 4th? Or just looking for some new ideas? Search for your favorite kind of food and use the facets to quickly limit the results down to exactly what you’re looking for. If you find a great recipe, share the link in the comments below! If you really want to use Yummly as an online kitchen helper, sign up for an account.

Help & Resources

Scan It! – Mobile grocery shopping

Grocery shopping seems like the last place you’d be living life online, but new mobile apps are making it easier than ever to pick a few things up from the store.

Mobile shopping inside the store

Stop & Shop's ScanIt! appStop & Shop’s ScanIt! mobile app (iPhone & Android) lets you scan and check out using your smartphone, expanding the existing service using a store-provided scanner. With the smartphone version, you need to type in your Stop & Shop loyalty card number when you set up the app. Then, show up at the store, grab a basket or cart, and just start walking around. When you see an item you want, take a picture of the barcode with your smartphone and it’s automatically added to your virtual cart. Put the item in your real cart and continue until you’ve got everything on your list.

While you’re walking around, you’ll also get notifications of special deals available for items nearby on the shelves. Yes, it can feel a little creepy, but it might also give you a reason to actually try that new mustard that looked so tasty while you were grabbing the relish next to it.

To check out, go to a self-service checkout station and scan another barcode there. The app sends your virtual cart over to the checkout station, lets you add any items that didn’t have barcodes or need weighing, and then finish up and pay. You never have to take the items out of your basket or cart, which is a real time-saver for big trips.

Mobile shopping outside the store

Most supermarkets now have some kind of online shopping service, either for delivery or to pick up in the store. You visit the store’s website, place your order, pay for it with a credit card, then set up a time to get it.

Earlier this year, Peapod & Giant Foods combined the mobile scanning and online purchasing tools for an ad campaign in Philadelphia. At commuter rail stops and bus stops, they put up billboard ads that featured photos of popular items, with QR-style barcodes next to each one. While standing and waiting for your train, you scan the items you need and set up a time to have them delivered to your home or office. Simple, and brilliant.

In May, Peapod took it one step further and opened an entire virtual store in an unused subway tunnel in Chicago. I’m sure they got that idea from international supermarket company Tesco’s virtual store in a major downtown subway station in South Korea. Rather than just a few items, entire sections of the store are available to scan and buy.

List-making and coupon-information only

Peapod / Stop & Shop seem to be the only store in the US offering a full mobile shopping experience, but other stores have apps too. These apps send you weekly or daily deals, let you create a shopping list, and sometimes put that list in the order you’d find the items as you walk around the store. Definitely useful, but not quite as cool as doing the whole thing online.

How Is It Useful?

Stop & Shop’s ScanIt! streamlines the entire shopping experience by making you touch every item just once: you take it off the shelf, scan it, put it in a bag in your cart, and you’re done. One of the biggest hassles of grocery shopping – loading, unloading, and reloading a cart – is reduced from three steps to one, saving you lots of time on each trip.

Using your mobile device to order grocery deliveries lets you do that wherever you are, whenever you have time, not just when you’re sitting in front of a computer. Imagine combining two errands: waiting at the doctor’s office, you set up your grocery delivery for the following night. Especially if you often buy the same products, app-based online shopping is a breeze.

The other mobile apps still help speed up shopping by letting you create your entire shopping list ahead of time (maybe in that same doctor’s office), so that when you get to the store you’re ready to go. All that, plus the automatic notices of coupons and weekly specials, make for a much easier time all around.

Help & Resources

Where’s My Bus? How’s the Traffic? – Transit Information Apps & Websites

As the weather gets warmer and we spend more time outside, more people are out on the roads and on public transit. There are many tools to help keep tabs on when the next bus or train is due, and on traffic conditions everywhere. Some are websites you can visit from any mobile device or a regular computer, and others are apps for iPhones, Android phones, iPads and more. Since Learning for Life Online is based in Boston, we’re going to look at Boston-are resources, but there are similar tools for most areas of the United States and around the world. See the Help & Resources section at the end for more information.

Public Transit Apps & Sites

If you’re in Boston, the main public transit system is the MBTA, known as the T. Here are some tools to help you track buses & trains, or to figure out the best way to get somewhere by T.

    MBTA app center

  • First, start out at the MBTA website from your computer or smart mobile device. They’ve got a good trip planner, alerts about problems on the different lines, and a list of apps you can use to see bus & train schedules or to track them in real time. We’ll list a few of the apps below, but there are many more at the site. (Website, free)
  • Where is the T? is a mobile-friendly website (not an app) that gives real-time information about the Red, Blue and Orange lines of the subway system. Just visit the site on your phone or tablet, choose your line, and you’ll see icons for each train and when it’s due into the next station. Tap on a station name to see all the trains due into that station in both directions. Simple and easy. (There’s no information for the Green line because it doesn’t use the same tracking system as the others. Boo.) (Website, free)
  • NextBus is a website that does the same for all the bus lines. Visit the site, then choose the MBTA from the list of transit systems. Pick your bus route number, direction and stop, and you’ll get predictions for when the next two buses will arrive. You can also see them on a map. Each prediction page can be bookmarked for easy access later. (Website, free)
  • TLeave is an extremely simple and mobile-friendly site for the Commuter Rail (services from Boston to other cities in eastern Massachusetts). Select your commuter rail line, a starting and ending stop, and what day of the week it is, and you’ll get a list of all the trains that will get you where you need to be. Note: this is not real-time information, just a schedule list. (Website, free)
  • Catch the Bus is an app for any smart mobile device. You can see a list of routes, a map view for any particular route, get predictions for stops, and save stops to a list of favorites. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Boston Bus Map is an Android app that you can download to your phone and customize for the buses you take most often. Choose the route, set your favorite stops, and then just tap on a stop to see the arrival time for the next bus. (App, free)
  • Pocket MBTA is an iOS (iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch) app that works the same way for Apple devices. Pick your route, pick your stop, and get predictions and real-time information with a tap of the screen. (App, free)

Traffic Apps & Sites

  • Mass511 is a website from the MA Department of Transportation (MADoT) that has real-time traffic information across the state. You can visit the website and see a color-coded traffic map, or use the Android app or mobile website on your smartphone. (Website & app, free)
  • SigAlert (formerly SmarTraveler) is a website that shows real-time traffic speeds for all major roads in Boston and many other cities around the country. Just visit the site on your computer or mobile web device and choose an area by city or by road/route number. If you go by road number, you need to know what exit ramp you’re nearby to find it on the list. Note: This site now has banner ads at the top. Don’t click on them. (Website, free)
  • Google Traffic

  • Google Maps has a traffic option that lets you see how fast or slowly traffic is moving on your route. When you use the site to get directions, just click on the Traffic menu on the right side of the map to see traffic speeds in red, yellow and green. (Website, free)
  • Bing Traffic

  • Bing Maps has the same feature, right on their main page. (Website, free)
  • Both CBS Boston and Fox Boston have apps for Android and Apple products that include traffic updates from these local news sources. (App, free)
  • Traffic Boston is an Apple app that uses the MA Department of Transportation traffic cameras to actually show you traffic conditions at locations around the city. It doesn’t give you speeds or additional information, but it does give you a live view for right now. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Once you’ve gotten where you’re going, PrimoSpot will help you find parking for your car or bike. Visit the site or download the app, then choose what kind of parking you’re looking for (on-street, garage or bike rack) and type in the address you want to be near. (For the app, you can just find what’s nearby.) See nearby places to park, and tap on a location for more information and useful photos. Highly recommended, and also good for New York City and Seattle. (Website & app, free)

Help & Resources

Finding and Using Online Help

Out in the wild world online, getting help using a particular tool is often up to you. However, using help centers, support pages, live chat, and discussion forums, there are many ways to figure out how to make things work the way you want them to. These suggestions are good for using online tools, but also for using the help resources available online for home & personal electronics, appliances, tools, and other gadgets we use.

Getting Help from a Website

Where’s the link? — The link for a site’s help section is usually in the upper right or lower right corner. Sometimes, it might be along the bottom edge (with links to About Us, Contact Us, etc.) or very occasionally in the regular menus at the top or left. The link to the help section is frequently near the links to the account settings, which we found last week.

LG products knowledge baseOn the site’s home page, take a look for links to Help, Help Center, Support, Support Center, Customer Care, Getting Started, or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). A site might use any of these to link to their help section. If you see the words “Knowledge Base,” that’s a fancy way of describing a way to search by a product name or number to find information about that one thing.

What will I find in the help section?
The first way that a website usually offers help is through a Getting Started or Setting Up Your Account page. These pages give you step-by-step instructions for creating an account, changing the settings, and learning the basics of using the site. Many sites include a video that shows you how things work in real-life.

After you’ve used the site for a bit, you probably have a few questions. So do many people, and websites usually have a list of Frequently Asked Questions to offer answers. As the title suggests, these are questions frequently asked about how to use a site or tool, and often include problems that users frequently run into. Each question is answered briefly, with examples or screenshots when needed, and occasionally by linking to another section.

For more complex questions, or ones that aren’t asked as often, the help section will list other topics, arranged by category. These sections are often organized from signing up for an account, through using the basics, to more advanced features and troubleshooting. Work your way through the categories as you learn to use the site or tool

While you’re there, take a look to see if the site offers tutorials, training or other suggestions for learning how to use a site or a real-world gadget. For examples, see Microsoft Office training and DIY videos from Home Depot and Lowe’s.

In most help sections, there’s a search field just for the help section. When you’re searching Help, try to use the same words to describe things that the site or tool does. If you need help on Facebook Pages, type “facebook pages” into the search field. Be specific, and use just a word or two to get started.

Zappos.com live chatFinally, some larger companies will offer live chat with a support person through their help pages. If you’d prefer to talk to a real person, at any point, try turning it on and asking your question. When you’re using chat, you don’t have to worry about misunderstanding what someone says on the phone, and you can occasionally save the chat for later.

If I Can’t Answer My Question There, What Next?

Search the web, especially if you have a strange error code. Copy the error code and paste it into a search engine like Google or Bing – make sure you include the software you’re using or the website you were on. Then click search. Read through the results list and look for words like answers, forum or discussion. These indicate places where people go to talk about software and technology, and often ask each other questions to get help that way. Also, look to see if anyone else has had the same problem and written about their solution somewhere, in a blog or Facebook post.

Use discussion forums to ask your question and get answers. If you’re really getting stumped, look on the service or tool’s website for customer discussion forums, or look for other ones online using a search. These forums are places where users get to ask questions, search to see if someone else has already asked their question, and hopefully get some useful answers. Take a look at any of the Google product forums or Apple product communities for an idea of how these work.

If you have a blog or a Facebook account, post your question where other people can see it. Again, other people might have had the same problem and might have found a solution for it. You never know until you ask, right?

Help & Resources

On “Knowing Enough”

For the month of April, Learning for Life Online will show you how to learn more about the settings and features of the tools you use online. We’ll start by exploring the new Facebook Timeline and the security and feature settings Facebook uses. After that, the next two sessions will cover finding and changing the settings on any online account, then finding and using Help for an online account or a real-life product you use. On the last Monday in April, we’ll wrap up any loose ends from the previous weeks and maybe have a spring surprise or two.

But before we start looking under the hood of all these online tools, let’s think about just how much we really need to know about these tools in order to use them.
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user stephenliveshereFor most technology, you only need to know as much as the driver of a car. Get it started, send it in one direction or another, stop when you need to, get it fixed when it’s broken, understand the safety features and rules of the road.

That’s all, and that’s enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user therealkeltonSometimes, you might need to know as much as a mechanic. More about what’s going on under the hood, more about how it really works, more on fixing most of the everyday problems.

And that’s certainly enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user aero_gopherIn a few cases, you might even want to know as much as people who build cars. You’re thinking about how to create new features, solve complex problems, make improvements, get the most out of your tools.

That’s absolutely enough.
 
 
 

Photo and design courtesy of Flickr user smallritualThen, maybe – just maybe – you want to know as much as the designers of cars. You want to get the science behind it, understand the math that makes it go, create the art and beauty
of design, and learn the physical mechanics of construction.

This is more than enough, and more than most people would ever think of trying to know.
 

The point is, you don’t need to know exactly how a particular tool works in order to use it well. You may not understand everything about your car or DVD player, but you know enough to use it safely and well. The same is true for online tools – the more you know, the more efficiently and securely you can live life online. However, just by learning the basic rules of the road and understanding a few safety features, you can get pretty far. That’s what Learning for Life Online is here to help you with.

Next up, Facebook Timeline and the privacy and account settings.

Finding Jobs & Careers Online

While we’re on the topic of finding things online, let’s look at some of the better job and career resources out there. From mechanic to teacher to nurse’s aid to architect, there are employment resources and job finding sites for every career.

What Are They?

Job listing/career sites tend to fall into three categories:

  • Job ads sites just have job listings – an online classifieds section.
  • Career resources may have some job listings, but they’re mostly there to help you with the skills of finding a job: writing resumes & cover letters, interviewing, networking and more.
  • Combination sites have lots of job listings and some skill-building resources, especially resume and cover letter tips.

Each type of site is useful, depending on where you are in your career and what your needs are right now.

Job Ads Sites

These online classifieds will give you tons of possible opportunities…and that’s it.

  • Craigslist.org – one of the most well-known places to find local job listings. There’s a special Craigslist for cities around the world, such as boston.craigslist.org. You can also find volunteer opportunities, internships and other non-primary employment listings.
  • Online newspapers – Most major newspapers have an online version and they still have their job classifieds.
  • Simply Hired – a new database of job listings, they also have average salary and job trend information.
  • Indeed.com looks and works like Google search, extremely simple to use and to save search alerts to be sent to your email.
  • USAJobs.gov is the official US government site for Federal jobs and employment information.
  • You can also look for job listings from organizations and associations. LISjobs is a national library job listing site; HCareers (Hospitality Works) covers any hotel or hospitality field, including cruise ships and resorts.
  • Different kinds of careers and fields have their own sites, like CoolWorks.com (“Jobs in Great Places”). Use a search engine to find sites for the jobs you’re looking for.

Combination Sites

Each of these sites has job listings, but they also have many articles on writing resumes and cover letters, interviewing dos and don’ts,

Career Resources

  • LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. It’s one way you can develop the connections you need to get recommendations and find jobs using those personal links.
  • About.com Job Search offers articles and resources for every part of the job search, from listings to acceptance letters.
  • Your local public library has many books, DVDs and online resources available to help you in your job search, and they may offer resume writing and interviewing workshops.
  • One of those resources may be Career Transitions, a career resources database that uses Indeed.com to find job listings as well. If your library has Career Transitions, definitely check out the Interview Simulator, where you answer questions and get feedback about your answers.

For Employers

If you’re not looking to find a new job, but to hire folks into your jobs, nearly every single one of these resources has something for you. Check out the listings sites for tips on getting good applicants using their site, and the career resources sites for thoughts on retaining good employees.

Help & Resources

Finding Neat Stuff Online

Last week, we described many of the ways you can share the interesting links, images and videos you find online. Before we look at some places to find that neat stuff, let’s answer a reader question first:

Why Share?

What’s the point of all this sharing? Who cares, and who has time?

Remember: the internet and the world wide web are just another form of communication, like a telephone conversation or a billboard. Just like you’d share tidbits from the news or a little bit of celebrity gossip with your friends and family on the phone or in a letter, you can do it online via email, a blog or in a social network. The chitchat hasn’t changed much, but now we can share the original works with audio and video, too.

Where to Find It

Searching for topics using a search engine like Google or Bing can give you hundreds of links to choose from. Fortunately, there are many sites out there that have gone through them and found some of the niftier ones.

Technology News – The New York Times has a great Technology section that covers new tools, gadgets and some of the culture of life online. The Personal Tech section and Gadgetwise blog focus on things important to regular folks, while the Bits blog talks about tech business. For everything mobile, check out the Mobile Apps index to articles.

Wired has been reporting technology news for nearly 20 years, and is still one of the best places to find what’s new. It and CNET are also fantastic places to get reviews of that new gadget you’ve been thinking about buying. (And then you get to play with your new toy!)

General News – Every major newspaper and news station worldwide has a website, but there are some web-only news sources. Search engines like Google have news searches built in to offer a wide variety of news sources. The Huffington Post calls itself “The Internet Newspaper,” and it is one of the biggest and longest-running, and Five Thirty-Eight is a political analysis blog focusing on election results. The Daily Beast is the online home of Newsweek magazine, and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is a good first stop for international news. Finally, BuzzFeed pulls hot news from hundreds of sources on the web, and it’s a great place to see what resources out there.

Interesting and Fun – There are more good sources of nifty things online than we can name, but here’s a shortlist of favorites:

  • Boing Boing is a geeky source of news and neat things (Note: occasional strong language)
  • Neatorama, also geeky, but without the edge. Just good fun.
  • This is Colossal showcases amazing images and videos of art and design. Highly recommended.
  • I Can Has Cheezburger is an extremely silly site, full of pictures of animals with funny or ironic captions often in LOL-speak.
  • And, best for last: Cake Wrecks, “When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong…”

This is only the very tip of the “neat stuff” iceberg online. Next week, we’ll look at social news networks and “placeblogging” (blogs focused on places rather than people). In the meanwhile, please share any other sources that you enjoy.

Getting Social – Sharing the neat stuff you find online

When the internet began, the only way to share interesting information online was to copy and paste it into an email, or forward one email message around and around.

Nowadays, the web is built for sharing neat stuff. From social networks like Facebook and Google+ (G+) to video and photo sharing sites, it’s easier than ever to share the interesting links that you’ve discovered.

Copy and Paste

The easiest way to share a link is still to just copy and paste. At the top of your browser, you’ll see the address bar. Inside of that field is the web address or URL, usually starting with “http://www.[something]”. Click into that address bar and highlight the entire URL. Then, either click on Copy (under the Edit menu at the top of your screen) or use Ctrl-C or Command-C to copy the item.

Next, just paste the URL wherever you want to share it from – into an email message, into a Facebook status update, into a comment you’re writing, into a blog post of your own. Click on Ctrl-V or Command-V, or Paste from the Edit menu and the full URL will appear. No need to type it all out yourself; let the computer do the work of remembering all the numbers and letters.

If you’re a bit more comfortable with a mouse and are on a web page, you can right click on the link you want to share and choose Copy Link Location. This avoids the possibility that you don’t highlight the entire URL in the address bar before you copy it.

Sharing in Facebook

Sharing a link in a Facebook status update can be as easy as pasting a URL into a status update, but do get a few more choices. First, when you paste that URL into a status update, Facebook knows you’re linking to a web page and will add a little preview of that page, including the title, a bit of text and an image. You can get rid of the image by clicking the box next to the words No Thumbnail, and you can click on the preview text to delete or change any of it. You can also share to the public or to just your friends by changing the Audience drop-down on the post.

Sharing something that a friend posted on Facebook is even easier. At the bottom of the post, click on Share. Facebook will ask where you want to share this item – your Wall, a friend’s Wall, or in a private message to someone. Pick the destination you want and follow the steps until you’re done.

Finally, all it takes to share a photo or video via Facebook is to upload it. Click on Add Photo/Video at the top of the page, then either upload a single photo/video or Create a Photo Album to add many photos of the same event or thing. Walk through the steps and when you’re done, your photos or videos will be shared on your Wall or Timeline.

Sharing from Flickr or YouTube

There are two ways you can share a photo or video that you find online. Just above the image (in Flickr) or just below it (in YouTube), there’s a small Share button. Click that and either:

  • Copy the link that they offer you, just like you did in the address bar. Now you can paste that link into a status post, email message or as a link on a page.
  • Get the HTML/Embed code. This small bit of web page code will let you actually paste the video itself into a blog post, blog comment, or web page you create. If you’re not using one of those tools, don’t worry about the Embed code – just copy and paste the link itself. But if you are using a blog or working with your own website, try embedding the video instead. Copy the code they offer you and paste it into your blog post or comment. It should look like this:

Sharing Anywhere Else

Most websites and tools will let you share items in one of the ways described above. Before you just cut and paste the URL, look around on the page and see if you see a Share button to click. Try clicking and see what happens – the service will probably just walk you through the steps you need to share using either a link or by embedding an image or video.

A word of caution: If the service requires you to create a new account with them before you can share something, stop and pause for a minute. Ask yourself if you really want to create a new account just for this, or if just copying and pasting the URL is fine. You don’t need to create accounts just because a website tells you so. Remember that you get to choose what you do and don’t want to do online, including signing up for a new service. Pause, and decide what you want to do next.

Help and Resources

Next week, we’ll take a step backwards and look at how to find neat stuff online. Stay tuned….