Tag Archives: amazon

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

The Only Constant is Change

We’ll be taking a short break from ebooks this week to talk about one of the skills necessary for living life online: being comfortable with change.

“Nothing but change endures.” Whether we know this quote from Heraclitus or Isaac Asimov, it still rings true…and nowhere more so than online. Everything we’ve seen about online life so far – the flexibility, the social nature, the connection to technology, the possibility for innovation – are things that encourage change, and occasionally require it. Even more than with cars or electronics, the internet makes rapid and continuous change not only possible, but relatively easy to do.

For those of us used to a world made of bricks and mortar, this kind of change can be surprising and uncomfortable. When you visit a store every day, you don’t expect to walk up one morning to a completely different storefront with doors in new places, a new way of ordering, changed packaging, and brand-new (and maybe younger and faster) employees. You walk in the door and realize you don’t know where anything is, don’t know where to find what you want or how to even begin looking for it, and you feel that the staff don’t understand why you’re confused. In these brick and mortar stores, you can usually see the changes as they happen: the scaffolding and construction, the “big change coming” signs, employees saying goodbye to their regulars before they leave.

And yet, that’s precisely what it can feel like to have an online service you use all the time change its website overnight. You wake up one morning and everything you finally have gotten comfortable with has changed….again. It can be frustrating, can make you feel like you don’t know how this stuff works after all, can cause you to throw up your hands and walk away from the machine.

Don’t.

Don’t walk away, and don’t give up.

Take a deep breath, remember that you do know what you’re doing, and go back to basics. In our very first post on Learning for Life Online, we talked about playing with new online tools. These same skills are what will help you now.

  • Read the screen and see if the site has a link to a list or a video about “What’s new!, or maybe a new help section to walk you through the changes.
  • Once you’ve found that list of what’s new, push the button and watch the video or click on the link to the new features list. Then, try out one new thing at a time and see how it works.
  • Take your time and don’t be afraid. Yes, things have changed, but rarely does a website or service change absolutely everything all at once. You’ll recognize what’s familiar from the previous version and can focus on how it works differently now.
  • And a new one: don’t panic. It took you time to learn the old features, and it’ll take some time to learn the new ones, but probably not as much time as you think it will. All those changes will probably make the site easier to use and help you do what you want to do, so give them a chance.

Also, don’t believe the myth that the “younger kids who’ve been doing this forever” are any more comfortable with change than you are. They aren’t, and every time a service they use and have customized to be just the way they want it to be changes, they complain and get frustrated just as much as the rest of us. And then, like the rest of us, they get used to the changes and keep on going.

So, why have we taken time to talk about being comfortable with change this week? Because several major websites/services have announced updates and new features in the past two weeks that will have an effect on millions of people.

Facebook changes a little, then a lot

In late September of 2011, Facebook users woke up to yet another series of changes: their Most Recent feed choice was replaced by a Top Stories feed that missed half of what they wanted to see, their lists of friends and acquaintances were different, the login and stuff on the left side of the screen had moved around again, and there were different choices and settings that needed to be updated. That morning, most Facebook posts seemed to be about how much they hated the new look and feel, but that anger died down by mid-day and now, two weeks later, it’s all but gone. (For some history, the same thing happened in 2009.)

What many Facebook users didn’t realize is that these changes were the first step towards a much, much larger change, coming later in October. You can watch the full announcement and demonstration of the new Facebook Timeline, but in short, it’s a visual way to display all of your posts, photos & videos, apps, and anything else you want to share on Facebook. You can customize the look and there are new features that let you “curate the story of your life.” Mashable.com has several articles summing up the little changes and the big ones to come.

Amazon Kindle ebooks finally available through your local library

Ever since public libraries began to offer downloadable ebooks through their online branches, users have been asking, “…but can I get some books for my Kindle?” For a very long time, the answer was No, but last week, that changed. Now, Amazon Kindle users can check out library ebooks if their local library uses the Overdrive ebook and digital audiobook service. Once you find a book in your library’s ebook collection (check out the Boston Public Library’s for example), you check it out using that system and then seamless move over to your Kindle account to download it. This is a huge change because now the millions of Kindle ebook users can now check out library books. Awesome.

Boston Public Library’s online catalog gets personalized

Earlier in 2011, the Boston Public Library got a new online catalog, and overall the response has been really positive. Just today, the company who manages that online catalog updated the page you see when you first log in, to make it easier to see the important information (what’s checked out & when it’s due) and recommendations and ratings made by the people you follow. Check out this short video about all the changes to the online catalog for more information.

Summing Up

One of the greatest strengths of life online is that it’s easy to update and improve on the services and tools that we use there. However, this means that those services and tools will change, and we must change with them….or find new tools. Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard or scary or frustrating. We can learn to roll with changes and maybe find that the new, improved thing is actually better. But you’ll never know if you don’t give it a chance.

Help & Resources

eBooks – Reading on Other Devices

Last week, we introduced eBooks and eReaders. Today, we’ll look at what’s needed to read ebooks on other devices. After a quick look at some free independent ebook apps, I’ll go into detail about the Kindle apps, using them as an example for how many of these services work.

Independent ebook apps

There are hundreds of ebook apps available through the app stores and markets of whatever device you own. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • Stanza for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Aldiko for Android phones and tablets
  • eReader for many devices
  • Overdrive for ebooks checked out from your local library (many devices)

Most of these apps are easy to use – all you need to do is follow the steps on the screen. They also work similarly to Kindle apps, which I’ll describe next.

Something a little different is Ibis Reader: a web-based, app-less service that you can access from any computer or mobile device. You simply create an account (by typing in an email address and choosing a password) and you can upload any ePub or PDF format ebooks, or choose from hundreds of freely-available ebooks from FeedBooks.

Kindle ebooks

Originally, you could only read Amazon Kindle ebooks on the Kindle itself. Over the years, Amazon has added Free Kindle Reading apps so you can read Kindle ebooks on your computer or laptop, on your smartphone or other mobile device, and on your tablet (like an iPad). Now, you don’t even need to own a Kindle to use the Kindle Reading apps.

Before you can use any of the Kindle apps, you must have an Amazon account. Visit Amazon’s website and find any link that says “New customer? Start here.” Click the link and follow the instructions on the screen. You will have to provide your email address and a credit card number for buying ebooks. Remember, you can use a dedicated credit card for your online purchases if you want to.

Like all apps, Kindle apps are small programs that let you read your Kindle ebooks on whatever device you’d like. You can download the app either from Kindle’s app page or from the app store on your mobile device or tablet. Once downloaded, open the app and it will walk you through the steps to sign in using your Amazon account. After that, just find an ebook you want, purchase it, then open up the Kindle app on your device and choose that title to download and read. Easy!

The latest innovation from Amazon is the Amazon Cloud Reader. This web app lets you read your Kindle ebooks in either the Chrome or Safari web browsers. (The Cloud Reader doesn’t work with Internet Explorer or Firefox.) If you remember how the cloud works, this app means that you don’t have to download the ebook you want to read – you can just store it on Amazon’s Cloud drive and read it anywhere, from any computer. This is useful if you are borrowing someone’s machine or using a tablet or other device that doesn’t have an app yet.

Nook ebooks

Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebooks can also be read on different devices, though they don’t have the web app for any internet browser. Just like with the Kindle ebooks, you do need a Barnes & Noble account before you can set up the apps and download books. Also just like Kindle, you don’t need to own a Nook to use Nook ebooks – just find your preferred device on the list and download the app today!

Kobo ebooks

If you have a Kobo account, you can also read your Kobo books on your iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry and Palm Pre using a Kobo app.

iBooks on Apple products

Apple’s iBooks works on any Apple mobile device (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and can read both ePUB and PDF formats. It does not work on Apple computers and laptops. You purchase books to read through the iBookstore with the same account you use for iTunes and the App Store.

How Is It Useful?

In our previous lesson, we mentioned a man who never finished a book because he’d lose them 50 pages from the end. Now, he can purchase one ebook from Amazon and read it on his Kindle, on his laptop, on his work computer and on his phone. That same book is always with him, wherever he goes, and he never loses his place or the book itself. He can take notes in a reference book on his Kindle, then bring those highlighted sections up during a work meeting on his laptop’s screen. When he’s standing in line at the Motor Vehicle office, he can read the next few pages of the novel he’s working through…or maybe more. No matter where he is, his library of ebooks is there with him, ready to be read at a moment’s notice.

What isn’t useful about this?

Help & Resources

eBooks & eBook Readers – The Basics

With the surge in popularity of eBooks and eReaders, it’s easier now than ever before to have nearly anything you could want to read at your fingertips in moments. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what ebooks and ereaders are, how to read ebooks on devices beyond ereaders, and the many places to find and download ebooks.

What Is It?

Electronic books, or ebooks are precisely that – electronic versions of physical books. Rather than read them printed on paper, we read the content of these books on some kind of electronic device. In the US, many people read their ebooks on an ebook Reader, but other devices you can use include your computer, your mobile phone or smartphone, or a tablet device like the iPad or GalaxyTab. Note: This week, we’ll discuss just the ereaders and next week, we’ll look at reading ebooks on other devices.

eReaders are dedicated devices meant only for (or primarily for) reading ebooks on. The Amazon Kindle was the first and most common ereader for many years, but the Nook has become popular because you can also use it to surf the web. Other readers on the market include the Kobo, the Sony Reader, readers from Aluratek and PanDigital and many more.

There are two important differences between different brands of ereaders: the file formats they allow, and the way the screen works.

  • File Formats. There are three most-used formats for ebooks – EPUB, PDF and Amazon’s AZW (Kindle only). EPUB and PDF are what’s called an ‘open’ file format, and they can be viewed by most of the ebook readers out there. Amazon made the choice to create their own ebook file format, and those ebooks can only be read on Kindle devices and applications. You don’t need to know how the different formats work – you just need to know which formats your ereader can read, and which ones it can’t. That will let you find and download the correct format when you’re looking for your own ebooks.
  • Screen Type. There are two primary types of screens for ebook readers:
    eInk or ePaper screens were first used by the Kindle, and later by the original Nook and Sony eReader. An eInk screen looks just like a page of printed text, with a warm grey background and black ‘ink.’ You can change the font size somewhat, but the idea here is to recreate the experience of reading a printed book.
    Color LCD screens were first used by the Nook Color, and they allow the ereader to show color images and to surf the web. With these screens, it’s possible to view magazines, picture books and comic books on your ereader.

Features on ereaders vary from model to model, but nearly all of them will keep track of where you are in a book, let you move from book to book without losing your place, and allow you to download books onto the device for offline reading. Some ereaders will let you highlight text or save notes about what you’re reading, making them useful for students, scholars and voracious readers. The Nook color and other color ereaders will let you surf the web using a basic browser, turning an ereader into a simple tablet device (far less expensive than an iPad!). For an idea of all of the features available, look at the product pages for each of the readers mentioned above.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine being able to carry a small library’s worth of books with you wherever you go, available to read at a moment’s notice? You can decide at the very last minute whether you’d rather be reading the latest James Patterson or re-read that book of Carlos Casteneda’s poetry you love. Now picture being able to write in all of those books without harming them, and marking your place without the risk of losing your bookmark or ruining the corner of a page. Finally, think about all of this happening in a device that weighs less than your average paperback and that can close its cover and slip into a bag.

This is what it means to use an ereader to read ebooks. It is a different experience than reading a printed book, to be sure, and it is sometimes a better one. For traveling, especially, carrying and keeping track of a single ereader is lighter and easier than lugging around a dozen books. Just like iPods and other mp3 players changed the way we listen to music on the go, ebooks and ereaders are changing how we read.

Ereaders can also make it easier to read and finish books. One person who could never finish a book because he always seemed to lose them 50 pages from the end is reading more than a dozen books a year now, thanks to his Kindle. People who need larger text to read more easily now have many more options, because any book can become a large print edition on an ereader. Finally, while electronics are not environmentally friendly themselves, there is some good in not having millions of books printed only to end up recycled not too longer afterwards.

Try It Out

Since I’m not going to tell you to run out and get an ereader, let me suggest getting ahead on next week’s lesson (when we’ll talk about reading ebooks on devices other than ereaders) and take a look at Archive.org. Archive.org is a free online archive of texts, audio, video, websites and many other formats. Search through the texts archives and find something you’re interested in reading. Then, click on one of the options under View the Text – you can view it online, or download it to your computer to read whenever you’d like. PDF might be the easiest format to start with, since nearly every computer can read that format.

Help & Resources

Buying and Downloading….Anything, Really

In the next few weeks, we’ll switch from talking about online audio & video to discussing ebooks – a topic getting more popular every day. To bridge the gap between them, let’s look at how you can buy and any kind of media online. For a refresher, go back and read the LLO post on what downloading is.

Note: In this lesson, we’re going to focus on buying and downloading to a computer (either PC or Mac). Our upcoming lesson on ebooks will include buying directly from your ereader device.

The Basics

You might be looking for music in iTunes or Amazon, getting an ebook from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or purchasing directly from a band or an author using a site like Bandcamp or Lulu. The source really doesn’t matter, since buying from most of these services follow the same basic steps:

  1. Find the item you’d like to buy
  2. Click on “Buy Now” or “Purchase” or “Download,” or whatever button is the page
  3. Create an account with that service, if required. Enter your email address and choose a password that you’ll remember. Look for any ticky boxes that you can uncheck to choose not to receive special promotions or email from this service.
  4. Enter your billing information: credit card number, billing address, etc.
    Many of these tools will let you pay using PayPal or another online payment service. If you have a PayPal account, great! Use that and you won’t have keep entering your billing information. However, it’s not necessary – you can usually just pay with a credit card.

    Safety & Security Tip: If you are concerned, get a credit card to use just for online purchases. You can set a very low purchase limit – $200, say – to minimize any risk. This is especially good for buying from smaller, less well-known companies. You could also buy a Visa cash card or something similar, to use for very small purchases.

  5. Complete the order – you’ll usually get a receipt emailed to you
  6. Download
    If prompted, click on a “Download” link to start the actual downloading process. This might also start automatically.
    At this point, you’ll probably be asked to save the file(s) somewhere on your computer. You can save it to the Downloads folder or to your Desktop, or to a folder you’ve set up for media downloads. Sometimes, the downloader will suggest the right place for the file, but sometimes you’ll need to change the save location to the correct folder. Don’t be too worried by this – you can usually go back and fix things later if they aren’t quite right.
  7. Enjoy!
    Once you’ve downloaded the files, you should just be able to double-click on them to play or read them in the appropriate program. Sometimes you will need to save the files to that program (such as moving music files over to iTunes or your music library software). Just find the files you saved and drag it over the program folder, or whatever folder that program stores its files in. Drop the files into the program folder and you’re done.

Don’t worry – this is one of those things that’s confusing the first time you do it, but gets easier with practice. The most important step is to remember where you downloaded the files to. As long as you know where those are, you can sort out any problems later.

iTunes

iTunes is probably the easiest service to buy from, because it really does do everything for you. Simply open up iTunes on your computer, visit the iTune Store, find the items you want, click on “Buy,” enter your iTunes account information, and then iTunes does the rest. It will automatically save the files to the right places, and you can play them as soon as they’ve downloaded.

Amazon

Amazon is the next easiest service to buy from, because it does nearly everything automatically. Just visit the Amazon website, find whatever it is you want to purchase, click on the orange “Buy” button and enter your account information. The one difference is that Amazon asks you to set up the Amazon Downloader, a program that manages all your Amazon music downloads for you. The Downloader will save the files to the right place, especially if you use iTunes as your music library, and then you can play your audio from iTunes with no problems.

Amazon’s ebooks are designed to be read on their Kindle ereader, but you can also get a Kindle app to read them on a computer. Follow the instructions on the page to learn more about using this service.

eBooks & Audiobooks

Barnes & Noble
Audible (audiobooks only; now owned by Amazon)
Kobo Books (ebooks only)
eBooks.com (ebooks only)
Archive.org – a free site that works the same way as the paid sites

These sites all work similarly to Amazon, but without the Downloader or a Kindle app to help you manage your files.

Direct From the Creator

Many musicians, bands, authors and other creators will sell their work directly from their own website, usually using a service like:

Music & Audio
CDBaby
Bandcamp
Digstation
ReverbNation (also added to our list of music library services and internet radio sources)

Self-Publishing for Authors, Poets & Photographers
Lulu
Blurb
XLibris

All of these services also work similarly to Amazon, though you do need to move the files around yourself.

Help & Resources

Introducing….the Cloud

First, a note: Last week, I said that we would talk about buying music online and introduce “the cloud” in this post. As I wrote, I realized that it was too much information and should be split in two. So, this week we’ll introduce the cloud and next week we’ll talk about buying any kind of downloadable media – ebooks, audiobooks, music, videos and more. Thanks, and on into the cloud!

Cloud Computing Explained

What Is It?

The short answer is that “the cloud” is just a group of computers that store information and run software and applications for you, without you having to own or take care of those computers. You can access the information or use the applications from any device with an internet connection, and can upload and download your stuff from wherever you are.

This is what makes the cloud so useful – suddenly, you don’t need a powerful, expensive computer to do some really neat things. If you buy music, videos or books, you can keep them online and have them wherever you need them, but not require a lot of storage space on your own device. If you use multiple computers for work, you can put your files somewhere where you can get to them and not have to keep saving or emailing different versions back and forth. If you’re a small business, you can even rent a part of someone else’s powerful computers just for the space and time it takes you to do what you want, saving on business costs.

How Is It Useful?

Over our lessons, we’ve seen several tools that involve the cloud. All of them are made more useful because you can access them from anywhere. For a few examples, look at:

All of Amazon’s digital services now offer the option of saving either direct to a computer or to their Cloud Drive, so you can access your music and videos from any device you own. (More on this next week when we talk about buying downloadable media.) This fall, Apple introduces its iCloud service: if you use Apple devices, you can move files off of your computer and up to the cloud, where they are stored and easily shared between your Mac computer, your iPad and your iPhone. Everything you need, all in one place, accessible with whatever device you have in hand. Useful, eh?

In our previous post on music libraries, we mentioned that new tools are out there to let you see your home music library remotely. Yup, you guessed it – this is part of the cloud, too, but a private part that you can control.

Services like Subsonic and Spotify can be used like other music library programs, and also let you securely access your home music collection from remote internet-connected locations. (Spotify is also a source for streaming music, as we mentioned in our online radio post.) As long as the computer that stores your music is on and connected to the internet, you can log in to the service you use and play your tunes wherever you are. You can also choose to share your collections with friends and family by inviting them in. Note: You are not making your music collections public, unless you change the privacy settings to make that so.

Try It Out

You’re probably already using part of the cloud and didn’t realize it. Do you have Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or another web-based email service? That’s the cloud – you’re not storing those messages on your computer, someone else is storing them for you. Use Flickr or Picasa for your photos? Same thing. Has someone shared a Google Document with you, a spreadsheet, document or presentation? Also the cloud.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you’re using the cloud all the time. The cloud is what makes it possible for the iPad to be so small and lightweight and yet be so powerful. And, in the fall of 2011, Apple is going to officially launch its iCloud service to bring the cloud to all Apple devices.

The next time you use a mobile or web-based service, think about what parts of it might be in the cloud and what parts live on your computer or phone. The answer will certainly surprise you.

Help & Resources

Upload, Download, Attach, Save

Moving files around on the web has become something we do all the time, whether we know what we’re doing or not: sending and receiving documents by email, applying for jobs online, sharing photos and music, and buying audio and video online. But what’s the difference between uploading, downloading, attaching and saving?

Uploading just means moving a file from the computer you are working on up to the web. Usually, the button you would click to upload a file says Upload, but it might also ask you to Browse (look around on) your computer to find a file to upload. You might upload a resume file to a job application site, upload a song file to a music sharing site, upload a photo file to Flickr or Facebook, or upload a video file to YouTube.

Downloading is the opposite of uploading: you move a file from the web down to the computer you’re working on. Again, the button usually says Download or asks you to Browse to look for a file. Downloading is also what happens when you borrow an electronic item from the library, buy music or videos from Amazon or iTunes, or save a photo from your web-based email or Facebook onto your computer.

An attachment is a file that you attach to an email message in order to send both the message and the file at the same time. The icon for an attachment is a paper clip, and that’s just what you’re doing: paper-clipping another document to the message you’ve got and sending them both along together. Most kinds of files can be attached to an email message: documents, photos, audio and video. You can also receive attachments in email from other people, which you can download onto your computer. Safety note: Do not open attachments you’re not expecting from people you don’t know or email addresses you don’t recognize. These attachments are one way that viruses get around and infect computers, and can cause you a major headache.

Saving a file means storing it on your computer or a storage device permanently. You can save a letter you’re typing, save a presentation you’ve created or save a photo from your camera onto your computer or to a USB drive. Unlike uploading, downloading or attaching, when you save a file your computer doesn’t need to be connected to the web. In fact, you need to save a document or a presentation to your computer or a USB drive before you can upload or attach it anywhere else.

Help & Resources