Monday, April 12, 2010

A Safer Net

If you have Internet surfing kids, chances are you've cringed on more than one occasion at content they've come across on the 'net.... I liken the Internet to New York City, there's a lot of great stuff out there, but watch where you're going...!  So what's a parent to do?  There are options available so you can keep your sanity and know your kids are safe online.  Filtering software is a start (i.e. Net Nanny), but it can be a cumbersome task to make sure you're running the latest version, and good luck if you have multiple Internet-ready devices in the house... fortunately there's another solution, filtering at the router.  A solid (and free!) solution is OpenDNS.

Just point to the OpenDNS name servers and you are off and running.  A name server is a computer that turns your name requests (i.e, espn.com or cnn.com) into a number (IP address) that routers understand.  Your router, if it was installed by the cable guy, will be pointing to the cable company's name servers:  that means no filtering, average performance, somewhat reliable uptime.  Point them to the name servers supplied by OpenDNS, and get more reliable and faster performance (OpenDNS uses caching techniques to make the actual name resolution faster), and best of all, content filtering.

Sign up for a free account, and OpenDNS allows you to add your home router's IP address to it's database.   From there you can choose one of 5 filtering levels:
  1. High: Protects against all adult-related sites, illegal activity, social networking sites, video sharing sites, and general time-wasters.
  2. Moderate: Protects against all adult-related sites and illegal activity.
  3. Low : Protects against pornography.
  4. No filtering, and
  5. Custom: Choose the categories you want to block.
Choose one of the levels, and save your settings.  Then update your router's configuration.  Your router will have a basic configuration menu that allows you to use your service provider's name servers, or specify alternate name servers. This is where you would plug in the IP addresses of the OpenDNS name servers. The OpenDNS name server IP addresses are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. You could also set these addresses on the individual computer, in the network settings. But to protect your entire household, setting them on the router is the best solution.

[Keep in mind your router's IP address may be dynamic.  Meaning, if you ever lose power or reboot your router for any reason, it may be assigned a different IP address by your cable company when it starts up again.  You'll have to update your OpenDNS account if this happens.]

Take some time and check it out.  You owe it to your family.

Use OpenDNS

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An iMac for Pop

Today's Boston Globe had an article titled For elderly, the wired world holds terror - or delight.  Some quotes from the article: “The future scares me, I like the old days. I’m scared of computers", and “I’m not on the Internet, I don’t know that much about it....I don’t even know what they’re talking about: BlackBerries, blueberries.’’  This got me thinking about my Dad and his computer use... I'm happy to say my Dad isn't afraid of computers, and he likes blueberries too...

I visited my parents recently, and when I visit this means helping out Pop with his computer. I look forward to it. Once the Chief Engineer of the Navy, the Admiral is no slouch when it comes to computer logic. I don't recall when he got his first PC, but it was well after he'd retired.  The challenge Pop has is at the keyboard, he's a bit deliberate... unfortunately he never learned to type. Given his career path, manning the keyboard was not part of the job description.

Recently my older brother helped Pop upgrade from a classic Gateway Astro to the latest iMac. This was a great idea and long overdue. Now while Pop executes his one-finger typing, he can see what he's doing on the 21" screen.  Pop spends a lot of time online these days, mostly on news and financial sites, where he can point and click. With the built-in camera on the iMac, he's also started venturing into video chat, which allows him to see his kids and grandchildren.


This was my first exposure to the latest iMac, and I was impressed.  While the keyboard's a bit tiny, it's similar to a laptop's keyboard, with less effort required to press the keys.  And as advertised on the Apple site, it's the ultimate all-in-one. Now with the ultimate display.  Heck, after spending the weekend playing with Pop's iMac, it was tough to return to my Dell laptop.  As an iPhone fan, I'm sure I'll break down and get an iMac soon... anyhow, I've digressed... by the end of the weekend, I had Pop set up with an account on Facebook.  Yep, Pop has progressed all the way to the world of social networking... he hasn't posted much, a few comments here and there, but I'm pretty sure he gets a kick out of his kids profiles, and all the family pictures...

So here's a shout out to Pop and his iMac, and by the way, start posting some status updates!