Get the Most from Your Google Search

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I Googled it but couldn’t find it”, I’d be a rich woman.  In fact, the desired information was probably returned as one of the millions of results, but the user didn’t have time to look at the whole list.  Who could blame a person for not wanting to sift through pages and pages of results just to find one gem?

Thankfully, Google has some tools built in for advanced searching.  Some of them are obvious, such as the list of options for refining the search that appear on the left side of the Google search page.  Others are not so obvious.  I have found a couple of sources that will help you on your way to becoming a Google search guru, able to get exactly what you are looking for to show up on page one of your results.

This infographic from the folks at HackCollege gives a great overview of some of the most helpful search terms (operators) to help you narrow your search field.  Another great resource is this article by John Tedesco, reporting on a speech given by Google employee Daniel Russell.

If you don’t want to memorize all of these tips, try using Google’s own Advanced Search page.  To get there, go to http://www.google.com/advanced_search.  Or, start with a basic search.  On the results page, click the gear icon in the upper right corner.  Select “Advanced Search” from the resulting menu.

Happy searching!

Check Your Computer for DNS Changer Malware

You may or may not have heard about DNSChanger malware (FBI information site or ABC news story), but if your computer is infected it will be obvious after this Sunday.  This malicious software, authored by an international cyber ring, was created to reroute infected computers to fraudulent websites.  Enter the FBI and Operation Ghost Click.  Not only did they take down the criminals responsible, they also put clean servers in place to maintain internet access for affected users once the malicious servers were taken down.

After this Sunday, the FBI plans to shut down the servers that have been keeping infected machines online.  Any machines with DNSChanger malware still active will lose internet access.  As of July 4, the affected machines still numbered about 46,000 in the US.  This particular malware did not discriminate between PC or Apple.  Tablets and routers were also affected.

To find out if your computer is infected, visit this website:  http://www.dns-ok.us on that machine.  If you see a green background, you are all set.  If you see a red background, your computer is infected.  If you get the dreaded red background, there is good news.  The DNSChanger Working Group has put together a page containing tools and a step-by-step guide to fixing your computer.  Unfortunately, the fix can get complicated or take time to complete because this is an exceptionally nasty piece of malware that affects the machine’s boot sector.

I urge you to check your computer(s) ASAP, before the Sunday deadline, in case you need to implement the fix before you lose internet access.  If you do lose internet access on Monday, contact your internet service provider for further instructions.

Searching Anonymously

Lately, I have been reading a lot of posts about how to keep sites and services from tracking your internet activity.  Though many of us have nothing to hide about how we use the internet, it may still be disturbing to know you are being tracked and to have personal information about you sold to the highest bidder.

Here at the library, we use Google Analytics to get information about how people use our site.  Our only reason for doing this is to help improve the user experience in our online locations.  Knowing which of our pages get the most hits helps us tune in to the content you want and need.  We do not sell this information.  Nor do we use it for targeted advertising or nefarious purposes.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the many of the other sites out there tracking their users’ visits.

If you would like to turn off tracking in your browser, you can set this in the preferences/settings area of most browsers. Those browsers that do not currently support turning off tracking have pledged to implement support by the end of the year, according to this c-net article.  Personally, I use a browser add-on called DNT+.  This browser add-on/extension advertises that it goes “far beyond what built-in private browsing modes offer” with a link to this list of concerns not covered by your browser’s private mode.  DNT+ also allows me to pick and choose which sites I allow to track my movements.  For example, I allow libraries, schools and government information sites to track me because I know it will help them to improve their services, and they won’t sell my information.  I do not allow commercial sites to track me because I do not have confidence that they will use the information in an entirely constructive way.  This is all a matter of personal preference, of course.

Even with tracking blockers in place, search engines may still gather information about how you are searching.  If this gives you the creeps and you are looking for a non-tracking alternative browser, check out these suggestions by How-to-Geek.

Do you have privacy concerns you’d like me to cover here?  If so, please note them in the comments and I’ll work up a post.

That reminds me – it’s time to double-check my Facebook privacy settings, too…

Storing and Sharing Files in the Cloud

Have you ever wanted to share a video with a few friends without making it publicly available?  How about sharing a set of photos that are too large to email?  What about accessing a file on your laptop from a smartphone?  These and many other needs can be met by storing and sharing your files in “The Cloud.”

The simple definition of the cloud is a place in cyberspace, not on your local machine, where files are stored.  For example, if you have Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail, your emails are stored in the cloud.  Technically, they are stored on the servers at Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  But, from the user’s point of view, they are living out in cyberspace, not stored on the computer/tablet/smartphone where they are being viewed.  The advantage of storing files in the cloud is that your files are accessible from any device in any location with an internet connection and the right username and password.

I had been working on a post that would highlight services that allow users to store and share files in the cloud.  As it turns out, Richard Byrne recently did a great job listing and describing the most popular tools in this post on the Free Technology for Teachers blog.  However, it should be noted that two services mentioned in that article, File Stork and Go Pileus, are no longer available at the time of this post.  One excellent free resource left out of that article is Skydrive, Microsoft’s cloud solution that is integrated into Office 2010.  However, you don’t need Office 2010 to enjoy the benefits of Skydrive.  You only need a Windows Live ID.  Also, Google Docs (mentioned in the article) has expanded into Google Drive, which is similar to Skydrive and is accessed with a Google ID.

My favorite cloud storage and sharing sites are Google Drive, Dropbox and Skydrive.  What are you using?  If you use a service other than those mentioned in the blog post I mentioned, please post it in a comment.  Thanks!