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We’re posting this, because it’s cool

We’re posting this, because it’s cool

360 degree cameras and virtual reality are the future of immersing us into new fascinating worlds.  While this particular camera is attached to the Mars Rover nearly 141.6 million miles away, consumer models a little closer to home allow you to capture images around town and in the backwoods using revolving tripods and even drones.  Can you see how this technology might benefit your products of business? If not, here’s an example link from a local tavern we enjoy frequenting after long days of code grinding…. They have great pizza too!

Click, drag, and scroll in the image.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) and why it’s Important

Virtual Private Network (VPN) and why it’s Important

Virtual private networking should be a standard connection type offered by internet service providers.  The reasons behind this seem appalling.

Think about that statement for just one second… any longer, and you might develop a small migraine.  Why would decision makers from companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Time Warner, and Comcast want to know what moves across their network from your home, work, small business, or home office?  What do they gain from knowing what websites you’ve visited, what search engine key prompts you’ve entered and what applications you’re using and at how much bandwidth?  It doesn’t appear to be due in part to security reasons and that’s why perhaps we’ve reached a far more consequential and grim reality in terms of what web security and online privacy means for us as the end user.

The End User

Online security and privacy are the responsibility of the end-user. Simply put, If you don’t protect yourself or just don’t know how to, we’re sorry, but it’s your fault.

This means the internet service providers offer services geared towards increased revenue through advertising while data mining the feedback you blindly provide to them with a day full of browsing habits.

Don’t get us wrong… They’ll protect a designated email so long as it’s a service they offer or you pay for, but what happens when there’s a compromise on their end? What is actually happening?

Well, you’ll likely receive an email from a CEO who admits the vulnerability exists or existed, then recommends that you change your password all while providing assurance that the vulnerabilities will be or have been fixed… As for the data compromised… Well, it’s complicated…

What data was actually collected?  Seeing how the company is sending you an email, one can only assume that your message log and provided contact information could likely be a factor.  This could include correspondences saved, sent, and received, flagged messages, and saved contacts.  

Meanwhile the party or parties responsible for using said vulnerability are nowhere to be found, and seeing how they were smart enough to cloak their activities, it’s hard to hold someone, much less some thing, accountable.

What’s even stranger…

Your web browser right now, even as you read this blog page, is compiling site traffic that builds up lists and charts of analytical data which gives us perspective on your browsing habits while you engage and navigate through our website.  Everything from what pages you’ve looked at, to how long, to even what kind of device, and operating system you’re using is included. 

Should we go further or are you thoroughly freaked out yet?…. Let’s go further, because…. why not….

Since you’ve read this far, we’ve discovered the web browser your using. We even know what service you’re using to connect to the web. Additionally the resolution of your computer screen(s), and even a location based on a recorded Internet Protocol, (IP address) from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or cellphone provider.

Heck, we even know how long you’ve been here, how you arrived, and what website you will navigate to as you leave ours.

Take a chill pill, we have solutions… kinda

Before you have a panic attack, keep in mind, we’re web designers that have a devotion to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed.  Also, at no point is any of our analytical info shared or relayed to third parties.

VPN is your friend

Assuming we still have your attention thus far, encrypting a data signal between our laptops, pc’s, and tablets protects the consumer from third party products handled by internet service providers?  It also assures any company you wouldn’t want involved in your business fails to intercept any readable data through an unsecured connection, add-on, or third party app.  In the event that there is a security compromise, data retrieved by the third party, in theory, would be incomprehensible due to encryption.

Another reason for encryption is freedom.   As seen in countries where internet service providers are run strictly by their governments; virtual private networks (VPN’s) can mask an ip address location which can provide the user access to sites that they would otherwise be restricted or blocked from.  The user can then browse and communicate online anonymously.

In a small business setting, a dedicated IP address that people access from devices from a remote location, it imperative that those devices are secured from outside vulnerabilities, yet are they?

joffi / Pixabay

How to stop us, and them…

And by them, I mean site trackers:

  • Try the browser add-on Ghostery for Firefox and/or Chrome.

    If anything, the add-on prevents us, and “them”, from seeing what you navigate to while visiting our website… For web designers, this is a good way to prevent your browser from increasing the traffic and artificially inflating a site stat based on how many times you refresh the website in your browser during site builds.  That said, you might want to omit an IP address for other reasons, but that’s another article for another day.

 

  • Consider installing Privacy Badger into your browser add-ons.Non consensual tracking happens when third party sources have their code and scripts running on a web page you’re viewing.  Privacy Badger is endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is an all in one browser add-on that blocks said content from loading on a web page in your web browser.  Rather than seeing the content that the script runs, you’ll see a block notice over the website element.
  • TOR Browser is anonymous browser synonymous with what people call the Dark Web.

    TOR browser stands for The Onion Router.  The program relays your signal or routes you to other connections elsewhere in the world which ghosts your IP into making analytics on websites think you’re located somewhere you’re not. This is how a lot of websites blocked by a government become available for view in countries that otherwise restrict content and online expression.  The primary goal focused by TOR is providing anonymous communication and web browsing.  Additionally, Virtual Private Network, aka VPN, is recommended with TOR.

 

  • Subscribe to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service.

    The annual subscription costs less than that of annual virus protection.  This is especially important if you’re using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) as a way of accessing computers you own remotely or if you have a dedicated IP address that houses your company server. There are a lot of programs available for personal computers, laptops, and smart devices that can be installed which will encrypt the connection being used.

Update: People have asked if we have a recommended VPN service… We’ve found Nord VPN to be the fastest with the best annual price subscription-wise

  • Check to see if your current Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers VPN. You may have to make a few network changes, or even access your router, and the internet service provider may have the VPN expire after a period of time which you’ll have to occasionally change the settings to update to manually, but this option has feasibility especially if you’re transferring a lot of important files or documents online. Here’s one of the latest articles on setting up VPN with your Xfinity (read here)

A slight drawback with Virtual Private Networks…

Most users that have VPN, like those using the browser TOR, report reduced performance and speeds. We too saw an observably drastic reduction as well with speeds dropping from 38mbs to 2.1mbs (Megabytes per second). Over the next 5-10 years however, data transfer speeds are expected to approach near light speed as fiber optic connections become a standard. Both VPN software and TOR will likely evolve with theses technologies.

 

Secure Site License = Safer Online Shopping Experiences

Don’t buy from websites that do not have a Secure Site License or SSL!  That little lock icon at the top left of the browser address is important!  This dedicates the website to an encrypted server and routes data you send thru website forms through an encrypted connection.  This means no compromises to your name, email, contact address, credit card, but most importantly, your identity.  An example of what a secure site with a valid SSL looks like is below:

Digital Bricklayers Secure Site Licensing Available

Good Luck, and browse safe….

Audacity Audio Editing

Audacity Audio Editing

If you’ve ever been interested in using your computer to record, modify and layer sound, this little gem is a producer’s dream.

You have to respect open source software that not only competes with big market brands such as Adobe and Apple, but does so with little if any price. A program that does just that without any limitations to CUT-PASTE audio editing is Audacity. The software was built by communities of computer gurus who wanted to improve computers for the better of mankind at little to no cost.  Audacity is portable, runs on little memory, has a pleasant user view, is easy to understand, allows you to edit on single and/or multi-tracks in stereo or mono modes, and, did we mention, yes, it’s free!

The quick help guide and online forums provide a library of information and how-tos in addition to feedback from other users. If you have experience with recording instruments and vocals you’ll be amazed to see the plethora of audio editing plugins, processors, and effects that are included.

Something to keep in mind however is that there is a learners curve. If you’re used to keyboard shortcuts and menu interface functions of other audio editing suites you have to forget what you know and start fresh.

Audacity Features

  • Supports WAV, AIFF, MP3, AND OGG formats
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Quick Help guides and user forums
Open Source Office Software

Open Source Office Software

Have you thought about conducting a “minor breakup” with the large software companies without any sacrifice to product quality? Before going any further with purchasing any kind of office type media suite from a software juggernaut, read this post first…

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario that’s all to familiar in the office environment.  You woke up, turned on your outdated 2008 computer terminal, poured a hot cup of coffee, stretched, sat down once you finally saw the desktop, opened the browser, downloaded a file you needed from email and clicked on it only to read the message prompt, “Please update your software.”

It’s that time where your computer, or computers for that matter, are long overdue for software updates. Perhaps one of them crashed and you, who we’ll start formally referring to as “The I.T. Guy,” has the task to replace the hard drive along with drivers, operating systems, and of course, office software. Maybe you’ve just purchased a new computer and found it sans any word processing or presentation software.

The greatest drawback to office suite programs that hold word processors bundled with billing, invoicing, drafting, and presentation software is cost.  Buying office suite package software for your small business from big companies name such as Corel, Amicus or Microsoft, potentially costs hundreds, if not thousands. If you’re looking to fix a computer on a budget, the purchasing of a single license might not be feasible either.

In an era of open-source software, another office suite software program that stands out, aside from Apache’s OpenOffice is Kingston’s Free Office Suite. The program’s interface is modernized and functions well for a small 60 mb program when compared to the 3.0 GB behemoth that is Microsoft Office 2013.

WPS Shot 1

Features:

  • Office package includes tools for spreadsheets, presentations, and free online template design.
  • Interface is very easy to follow and similar to what you would expect to see in other Microsoft and Corel based products.
  • Support and Sync files by logging into the WPS Cloud using your facebook, twitter, or gmail account so they can be stored, and modified online.
  • Converts files to PDF.
  • Document Encryption Included
  • Compatible with Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, and 2010 formats.
A fun way to “Stumble” upon new ideas

A fun way to “Stumble” upon new ideas

When was the last time you left a classroom, business lecture, company sales meeting, webinar, or computer terminal, feeling like you truly learned something from the experience?

The internet is our classroom, but all too often we find ourselves visiting the same websites, saved bookmarks, news feeds, work interface, and search engine(s) all for information, which not only becomes a daunting task, but ultimately stops us from exploring the web any further. It’s self limitation that’s not only demotivating, but at times leaves you asking, “What have I actually taken out of this experience?”

Our personal browsing habits are doing little if anything to motivate, inspire, and give us purpose when we’re AFK (Away From Keyboard). The solution, while simple, is to change our browsing habits so that we can see new content.  The problems arise when we find ourselves stuck in our ways.

So the battle continues and we scour our typical news feeds, hash tags, and slew of status updates from around the world, with hopes of being led to a site that brings salvation.  To our dismay, that all to common voice in the back of our mind says, “We’re wasting time.” So we close our browser, log off, walk away and think nothing of it…

The developers at www.StumbleUpon.com have the answer with their fun and creative site that helps visitors find websites, blogs, and content that they never knew existed.

The site helps “Stumble” by randomizing a search with the simple push of a button that sends the visitor to websites, topics, blogs and subjects. Stumble also compiles it’s data based on interests the visitor highlights and suggests, all while randomizing the next webpage.

What’s in a good “Stumble”:

  • New ideas for marketing and design.
  • It’s a fun and creative way to share or engage users on topics that appeal to an audience or clientele.
  • Networking with similar individuals, business, websites, and blogs that aren’t top ranked on search engines or paying to be advertised across mainstream web.
  • Stories, videos, songs, artists, photos, and beauty yet to be read or discovered.
  • An overall feeling that even though the visitor may have, “Wasted time,” they come out feeling as if they’ve learned something new outside of his or her regular browsing habits.
How Google Adwords cost per click (CPC) works

How Google Adwords cost per click (CPC) works

Google Ad words allows an individual or business to bid on keywords relevant to their business or digital storefront.  The goal is to have your business appear as one of the first entities in Google’s search results when users search for products or services relating to your company. Are you managing your Google Ad words properly? If not, the formula to beat your competitor in Google’s rankings is pictured above and it makes perfect sense. The logic behind Google Ad Words is pretty simple, and that’s why we’ve posted a video from Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian who explains how your bid in Ad words, that ad’s quality, and your website’s content all play key roles.

Social Media Explained

Social Media Explained

If you’re struggling to understand your website traffic, or your Facebook insights, Social Media Examiner is a great place to start.  In the year 2000, social media sites existed, but weren’t as popular and as centralized as they are today.  Social Media Examiner is a business blog that examines website and social media traffic to provide recommendations for companies, both large and small, as well as industry professionals.   SME posts helpful articles explaining ways to improve social media marketing while boosting web traffic at no cost.  They also conducts case studies, feature podcast episodes with interactive professionals all while providing free e-mail updates with the latest marketing news.  Their articles cover a variety of subjects in today’s interactive world including browser-web tools, analytic data, and widget reviews.

WIDGETS & RSS FEEDS

WIDGETS & RSS FEEDS

Have you seen news feeds on your favorite website and wondered how the content stayed up to date?  RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or web feeds are an easy way to keep your audience informed by syndicating stories and information from other websites into yours without having to make updates. RSS also gives you the ability to display the contents date, author, headline, and image along with limiting the amount of characters seen in the blurb.

Buff up your Photoshop Skills with PSD Tuts +

Buff up your Photoshop Skills with PSD Tuts +

Layers, masks, vectors, shapes, stamps, transparencies, effects, filters,  and more!  What does all of this mean?!

While content is important, imaging and branding are essential for any website.  Everyone wants a design that is unique and one of a kind to their business, however not everyone is a graphics designer. In the next decade, Digital Bricklayers has no doubt that the next group of successful artists, branders, architects, and programmers will more than likely come from a much younger demographic than what’s seen in traditional marketing today.

Concept art from Feng Zhu, Click on the image to see the entire article at PSD TUTS +

The reason why is due in part to an impressive age and learning gap.  Multimedia platforms, in addition to their availability and lower costs, have aided in giving students as young as middle school access to very powerful software tools.  The software itself has made leaps tenfold in comparison to what was available 15+ years ago as well.

Photoshop is also now a part of grade school curriculum in many districts. For years, Photoshop has given students, corporate branders, and freelance artists the ability to create unique one of a kind designs that also reflect that artist’s personality and mood.  If you’re looking to improve and dial into your design potential, PSD Tuts + is a great place to start regardless of skill set.  They have step by step instructions making their tutorials easy to follow and informative.  You’ll also come to find that these learned techniques are nearly identical in retrospect to what students in design and art schools are learning today.

Responsive Websites

Responsive Websites

If you have an image that is 3 feet by 5 feet in terms of size, how can we display that entire image on a 4 inch wide smartphone screen?

Technology never ceases to amaze us here at Digital Bricklayers. We’ve gone from being wired to computers in an office, to having almost everything in that office, the e-mail, our social feeds, and documents readily available at a moments notice. New electronic devices have given the consumer instant gratification as well as accessibility.

“Day by day, the number of devices, platforms,
and browsers that need to work with your site grows.
Responsive web design represents a fundamental shift
in how we’ll build websites for the decade to come.”

Jeffrey Veen (author of “The Art and Science of Web Design”)

Tablet and smartphone technology is constantly evolving.  It gives the entrepreneur, businessman, store-front owner, consumer, and web surfer the ability to do almost anything they need to in order to get work done on the fly.

Below is an example of how websites adjust when built with responsive web code:

One website being shown on many different devices

Photo courtesy of:
John Polacek at github. Click on the image to see his responsive theme along with the article.

As you can see in the image above, the website has a fluid layout in terms of how it’s displayed on different devices.  There is no scrolling left to right, only up and down.  This prevents images as well as your brand from having anything cut off and out of  the viewer’s sight.  Another feature with responsiveness is the images ability to adjust to the screen size as well.

Our recent updates at http://www.HappyLittleBrush.com and Get-Fit-Together.com are great examples of an responsive builds maximizing convenience not only for the potential art buyer, but the client as well.

Contact us to improve your online image across all digital devices today!

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