The Firefox Browser, Internet Freedom, Web Literacy, (yawn…)

But it’s really not a boring story at all. Back in the early days of the Internet, the first browser, called NCSA Mosaic, was born out of the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Mosaic eventually became Netscape Navigator which spawned a not-for-profit organization founded in 1998 called Mozilla. Amazingly, 20 years later, this company is still around  and is one of the leaders in the fight to keep the Internet free and open.

Hardly anybody but techies know about it, but Mozilla makes Firefox which has recently received a major upgrade into a fast, powerful, safe, modern browser than can comfortably replace Google Chrome or Apple Safari. In fact, I’m typing this article using Firefox right now and, with the addition of an Ad Blocker, it seems even faster than Safari.

However, it is their mission that really sets them apart. Their recent email “Goodbye corporate domination” starts with the question “All browsers are the same, right?” Their response to their own question is fascinating:

Not quite. Firefox is on a mission — to be faster and leaner than ever, always respectful of your privacy and open like no other browser out there. Because it’s built for people, not profit. Firefox is part of Mozilla’s mission to keep you in control of your online experience and ensure that the web stays weird, healthy and inviting to all.

This sent me down a rabbit hole of learning about the many, many ways they are working to fulfill this mission. Everything from teaching “Web Literacy” to “The Mozilla Manifesto: Principles that guide our mission to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web.”

In a world where the basic health of the Internet is in jeopardy from the repeal of Net Neutrality, the wide range of online security threats, and violations of the most basic issues of privacy, Mozilla is doing an incredible job addressing these threats and educating the public.

So even if you love Safari, Chrome, or (gasp) Edge, give Firefox a try (again, an Adblocker makes online life much nicer too!). You might like it or just give them a few bucks (and Wikipedia too). They even have a handy guide to switching that takes less than a minute.

We get so much for free from “the Internet,” it feels nice to give back a bit to the people to keep it that way.

Twitter: How Many Times Have You Deleted It?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve just reinstalled it for the third time in six months. That’s my love-hate relationship with the social media company whose little birdie icon can be found on 99% of websites and many products. Even our jar of sunflower seed butter has a Twitter account (do gluten free Sunbutter stuffed banana fudge bars sound good?).

Believe it or not, POTUS is not even in the top 10 of largest user accounts. Katy Perry has that well deserved distinction. Twitter’s introduction line is “See what’s happening in the world right now.” This seems to be in conflict with recent headlines like “Is Twitter Censoring Free Speech” and the constant barrage of horrible tweets often featured on “Late Night” shows.

So why do I keep coming back to a place that seems to be full of time wasting, junkfoody verbal hate cookies? Because it’s a window into a world of communication more casually interactive than Facebook, more real-time than email newsletters, and more succinct than blog posts. Some of my favorite people not only share their thoughts as they have them, but I can also join the conversation.

The silly video below can help you get started. I only follow a few people, otherwise the stream of tweets gets overwhelming. My list includes @SteveMartinToGo (Steve Martin the comedian), @taylorswift13 (Tay Tay), @tim_cook (Apple CEO), @ElonMusk, @kottke (a wonderful blogger), @AppleEDU (Apple Education), @Firefox (Google Chrome alternative), and a few others.

So why doesn’t ElephantTech have a Twitter page…? There certainly is a dark side to Twitter as this writer explains beautifully in his post “WTF Twitter” (warning: he uses a bad word in the title), but like visiting a large city, just try to stay away from the dark alleys at night. You might find that the little blue “t” represents a better way to communicate than the little blue “f.”

Taming Email Courtesy of ArsTechnica

The last post, “The Taming of the Emails,” ended with a preview of a few techniques that might be helpful in taming an unruly email inbox. In a strange coincidence, the techie website ArsTechnica published the post, “Zeroed Out: Five Steps Toward Restoring Inbox Sanity” two days later.

Besides having a better headline, their article provides a detailed series of steps starting with the smart suggestion to set aside a few uninterrupted hours to tackle the project to using advanced features such as rules to prioritize certain people and topics. If you use Gmail, it can do some of the work for you with its “Important” folder and “Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums” Inbox tabs, but it is still good to know about advanced tools.

Personally, “Filters” are my favorite feature. For example, we used to take dance classes and subscribed to several dance mailing lists. Years later, we were still receiving weekly emails about events. As small lists, there was no unsubscribe button and while hitting delete a couple times a week isn’t really a huge burden, creating a filter to delete these messages automatically was a relief. It took all of 10 seconds:

  • Click on the message
  • Click “Filter messages like this,”
  • Confirm the search criteria, and
  • Check the box “Delete it.” Bam. Done.

An added bonus is that this is a very satisfying project similar to cleaning out a stuffed closet or garage, but with less heavy lifting. The author went from 2,500 emails to 50 in “a couple hours.” A little more work and you may end up “Zeroed Out” and greeted with that magical Gmail message, “No new mail!”

The Taming of the Emails

Lately the tech news has been filled with security articles on issues with ominous names such as Meltdown and Spectre. Yes, these are serious problems that need to be addressed by updating to the latest versions of Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android, but if you want a real chill, think about what will happen when your email inbox reaches its size limit!

For Gmail, that’s 15 GB which can fill up fast with 100 MB cat videos pouring in from friends every day. Worse still are the tens of thousands of small messages that sit in that tiny folder called “Inbox.” Department store ads, the latest airfare sales, Netflix, PBS, that cute restaurant in San Diego that has weekly specials, all collect there like leaves on a pond soon to sink to the bottom. A couple days later, they are buried under a new deluge of email and only surface when searching for something else, like an email from your friend Diego, and you find 175 weekly specials from that cute restaurant in San Diego that you haven’t visited in ages.

Four years ago, I wrote the post “Inbox Zero, Gmail, and Mobile Collaboration Tools” that discussed a product called Mailbox which no longer exists, but the idea of “Inbox Zero” is still a good one. At the moment, my email inbox has ZERO messages in it. Can you believe it? Am I some sort of OCD superhuman?! I’ll let you in on my secret over the next few posts, but here’s a preview of how to get there from the commonly overflowing email inbox.

  • Create a new email address for “important emails” and begin to give it out to family and friends. A more private address can also be used for bank logins and other secure websites. Making it a little harder for hackers to access critical accounts is always a good idea.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters that you don’t read as they come in. In a couple of months, it will make a big difference
  • Learn to use Gmail’s “Archive” button. An email inbox is the most effective when only items that require immediate attention show up.
  • For particularly unruly Gmail accounts (like work accounts), try a tool like “Drag” that gives more control over the behavior of the inbox by transforming it into organized Task Lists. Drag and drop your emails between lists/stages and customize them. It makes the hours spent in your inbox a whole lot easier and more organized.
  • Clean out large and repetitive messages from your current email account. Did you know you can search Gmail for messages larger than a certain size so they can be deleted?

It might take work upfront, but the beginning of the year is often good time to do this kind of housecleaning. A long, snowy morning could result in reaching that paradise of “Inbox Zero.”

Happy New Year!

Feedly – Because If You Are Still Starting Your Morning With a Zigzag…

“… through a standard set of Web sites (sic), you’re wasting time and energy. Feedly is what you Needly.” That corny quote is courtesy of a New York Times article from May 2013 and in terms of reading blogs, not much has changed since then.

And it’s not just blogs. Many people still visit a list of websites every day such as news, fitness, sports, celebrities, etc., quickly resulting in a deluge of information peppered with tons of intrusive ads. What they don’t know is that many websites offer one or more “RSS feeds” containing direct links to articles posted each day. For example, The Verge is an excellent source of technology news. They even break down their feeds into useful categories such as posts about “Microsoft, Apple, Google, Apps, Mobile, Science, Features, etc.”  Many companies large and small also have their own blogs with RSS feeds. National Instruments (NI) has a webpage with links to not only their own blog (with over 1,500 posts!), but the technology blogs of their partners as well.

The confusing part is that everybody from the New York Times to The Verge to NI use something called “RSS” to publish their feeds even though they are completely different sources of information published on completely different schedules. The Verge might publish more than 20 articles on a busy day while NI only publishes one article every couple weeks. So why visit multiple sites everyday, some of which might only publish occasionally? That’s where an “RSS reader” comes in. After setup and subscribing to various websites’ RSS feeds, it only displays a list of new articles. Articles in this list are marked as “read” either by being read (duh) or by skimming through headlines. Once marked as read, they do not show up again.

The easiest part is finding a good RSS reader. No need to do a Google search, just use Feedly.com. It’s free, simple to setup, and synchronizes content across its website, smartphone app, and tablet app. It is also fast, straightforward, and provides direct access to a wide variety of high quality news sites organized by topic such as Technology, Business, Design, Photography, Science, and Travel. Other websites and blogs can easily be added via the search box. Once the basic setup is complete, each time Feedly is accessed, it only displays a list of headlines from unread material.

So if you have some free time during these last few weeks of summer, setup Feedly and enjoy distraction free reading of your favorite websites and blogs. By the way, the Elephant Tech blog can be subscribed to by searching for “elephanttech.com” using the search box in the upper right corner…