Category Archives: Resources

Periodic posts of good resources for online life.

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Whether you’re supporting small businesses, creating custom gifts or buying ebooks, music or anything else, it’s important to keep yourself and your personal information safe. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to do.

Easy Steps

  • Almost all online purchases require using a credit card. For added safety, use one credit card just for online purchases. Set a very low purchase limit (say, $200) to minimize risk. You could also buy a cash card from Visa or American Express to use for very small purchases.
     
  • Do not use your debit card/bank card unless you absolutely have to. This protects your bank account.
     
  • Work with well-known companies. Real-world stores also have online ordering – you know they’re legitimate businesses. Other safe bets are Amazon, Zappos (shoes, bags, clothing & more) and Audible for downloadable audiobooks.
     
  • S is for Security: When you’re buying from a website and you click on Check Out, look for the letters “https://” in the website’s address. That “s” means that it’s more secure for your personal information. You can also look for a little padlock on the page or near the website address.
    httpsPadlock
     
     
  • Don’t click on links in email. Visit the store’s website directly and then enter in any catalog or discount codes at checkout.
     
  • Know the full cost of what you’re buying, including shipping and handling charges, fees and tax (if applicable). What looks like a deal might not be after you add it all up.
     
  • Read the details for cost, shipping, delivery dates, and any other steps along the way. Take your time and understand what you’re doing.
     
  • Read the return policy. Some stores like Zappos and Lands End have excellent return policies.
     
  • Never give out bank information, Social Security numbers or your birthdate. No legitimate business will ever ask for these – they don’t when you stand at the cash register, do they?
     
  • Don’t use a public computer for making purchases. Someone might be looking at your screen as you type in your credit card number, or might have done something to the computer to record what you type.
     
  • Keep records of your online transactions & check your statements. Save the emailed receipts from the sellers and check your credit card statement online more often than once a month. This will help in case something does go wrong.

Next Steps

  • Protect your computer from malicious software from fake vendors. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated – new viruses come up all the time.
     
  • When you buy from smaller companies, look for a physical address, customer service phone number and lots of information on the “About” page. Lots of details improves the chances that it’s a real business and not a scam.
     
  • Use a third-party payment service for your online buying. PayPal is the most well-known and trusted of these. Create an account with PayPal, store your credit card information there, then use your PayPal account to make purchases at other sites. This way, you don’t have to give your credit card number to all those smaller sites – just to PayPal.
     

Help & Resources

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…

Food…Glorious Food!

Last week’s post on copyright & Creative Commons was a little heavy, so let’s lighten it up this week on Learning for Life Online! It’s fall in New England, the time of year when the scent of wood smoke, crisp leaves…and soups, stews, pies and casseroles is in the air. Are you looking for Thanksgiving recipes, tips or tricks, or even looking to get ahead on the winter holidays? Harvest a few ideas from the online bounty of food-related tools!

Web Sites & Resources

Epicurious, Food Network, Rodale’s Healthy Recipe Finder, Allrecipes.com and Recipe Source all feature searchable databases of recipes. Type in something you have in your fridge and see what you can do with it! Recipes can receive ratings, garner user comments, and be shared and printed with ease. Recipe Source is currently featuring its collection of Halloween recipes if you still need a spooky salad or two. From any recipe on the Rodale site, click on “Add to Shopping List” and you can easily figure out what you need to get before you can cook.

The Joy Kitchen is the online home of the Joy of Cooking. They don’t have the complete contents of the books online, but the site is full of tips & techniques and featured foods. America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated has multiple sites, depending on what you’re looking for. You can start by reading updates to the America’s Test Kitchen feed (there’s a great post about making salted caramels) or watch episodes of the show online, then register for free to read the recipes. If you like what you see and read, you can try a free 14-day trial to the Cook’s Illustrated site, with all the product reviews and advanced recipes.

Cookstr.com is a “collection of cookbook recipes online.” You can browse and search their collection of recipes, or sign up with an email address and have a recipe mailed to you each week. It’s an interesting combination of blog and recipe database, and worth checking out.

Blogs

There are thousands and thousands of cooking blogs out there, but let’s feature just a few:

A Year of Slow Cooking chronicles daily experiments with crockpotting. From crockpot hot chocolate to turkey cutlets in mango salsa, there’s something for every palate and taste. For an added bonus, many of them are gluten-free!

Simply Recipes has a worldwide directory of food blogs, including Habeus Brulee, written by a New York cook and “occasional restauranteur.” Not only does she cook and post mouth-watering recipes, Habeus Brulee also also has an oustanding blog roll of food blogs; skim down the right-hand column to your stomach’s content.

Cooking for someone with an allergy or special dietary need? Here’s just a few to get you started.

Mobile Apps

The most useful place to have a food app is on your mobile device, for checking recipes in the store and on the go. Most of them will both search recipes and help create a shopping list; choose your favorite and give it a whirl!

eBooks – Where to find them

In our last ebook post, let’s look at the many places to find ebooks online. Across the web, you can find ebooks for free and for pay, major bestsellers and independent works. Some authors give away ebooks and entice you to buy print, others charge for their ebooks and never print a page. You can find millions of digitized books from research collections around the world, or the latest from your favorite author. It’s all out there.

Through Your App

Whatever ereader or ereader app you’re using, there is a way to search for content directly through it. It might be as simple as using the search bar at the top of the screen, or it might take a little more doing.

Read through the instructions or manual for your device or app and find the section on Searching. Here are Help pages from a few of the more popular services:

Free on the Web

These are some of the many resources for finding free, often out-of-copyright books online.

  • Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest and most comprehensive sites for free ebooks online. In many ways, it has set the standard for public domain ebook sharing.
  • Overdrive is the downloadable media resource used by many public libraries around the country. This example is from the Boston Public Library, and you can look at your library’s website to see if they offer ebooks for download. You do need a library card for that library to download ebooks from them.
  • The Ebooks and Texts section of Archive.org. Includes out-of-copyright books from many research libraries worldwide.
  • OpenLibrary – an open, editable online library hoping to provide a web page for every book ever written.
  • GoogleBooks offers access to millions of books, either to preview or read entirely for free
  • WikiBooks is an open-content textbook collection
  • Authors like Cory Doctorow and James Boyle let readers download their ebooks for free. Find your favorite author’s website and see if they offer free excerpts or whole books there.
  • The Baen Free Library – a collection of free ebooks from science fiction and fantasy publisher Baen Books. The publisher of your favorite books may also offer some for free – check them out.

  • Many of the for-purchase sites listed below also offer free ebooks or free excerpts/samples. See if they have something you can try before you buy.

For Purchase on the Web

There are hundreds of other sources for ebooks and the easiest way to find a title you’re looking for is to search for that title plus “ebook” in your favorite search engine and see what comes up.

Next week, we’ll take a quick look at the idea of copyright, public domain and Creative Commons licenses on the web, and what that means for what you find to read, watch and listen to online.