Don’t Bust Your Budget While Traveling with a Smartphone

You wouldn’t think of traveling around the globe without your smartphone. After all, that little device can help you quickly change plane reservations, find the trendiest new restaurants, and determine just how busy the highway to your hotel is.

However, there’s one problem: Using your cell phone outside the United States can cost you big bucks.

The pain of international texting

The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler blog recently covered the outrageous costs that smartphone users might encounter when traveling abroad.

Among them? How about 50 cents for every text message you send or receive? Then there’s international roaming rates that can soar to $2, $3, or $5 a minute. It could cost you $15 to retrieve a megabyte of data through your smartphone, according to the blog post.

Fortunately, there are ways travelers can save when traveling. And the Frugal Traveler blog was kind enough to list some of them.

Stay disconnected

Of course, the easiest way is to stay disconnected to your cell phone during your trip overseas. The problem is, that’s easier said. As the blog points out, many international hotels no longer have in-room phones. And pay phones are becoming scarce across the globe.

A more practical solution might be to rely on your hotel’s free Internet connections or on Wi-Fi networks to check emails and send messages. Of course, even if your web browsing and email activity is free, phone calls can still be a problem. A solution? Set up an account with an app such as Skype or Google Voice so that you can make your calls. This won’t be free, but as the Frugal Traveler blog says, it’s far less costly than making standard roaming calls on your cell phone.

In general, expect to pay one-tenth the price of a standard cellphone plan when you’re relying on services such as Skype and Google Voice.

International SIM cards

If your phone allows you to use other providers, your best bet while traveling abroad might be to purchase an international SIM card. The Frugal Traveler tried Telestial’s Passport card for $19 and OneSimCard’s Standard card for $30. Both worked well while the blog’s author traveled. Both will give you a main phone number that’s not from the United States.

Read more at the New York Times.

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It’s Time to Disable Java on Your Computer

Want to protect your computer from hackers? Slate technology writer Will Oremus has one suggestion: disable Java.

If you don’t know, Java is software that runs interactive functions on some web pages. The software has also been roundly criticized for being an open door of sorts to hackers. In a recent story, for instance, Business Insider pointed to the 700,000 Apple computers infected earlier this year with the Flashback Trojan malware. All of these computers were running out-of-date versions of add-ons that let their web browsers run Java.

The best way, then, to protect your computer? Oremus says it’s all about disabling Java.

Security flaw

Hackers recently found a flaw in Oracle’s Java software that allowed these cyber criminals to break into users’ computers and install malware. At the time, the threat was considered a “zero-day” one, meaning a threat that exploits a vulnerability that wasn’t previously known and for which no fix is available.

Since the security hole was discovered, Oracle released a new version of Java that the developer says fixes the vulnerability.

But the fact remains: Hackers frequently use Java to break into users’ computers. Turning it off, then, makes the most sense, especially since Java is no longer needed for the vast majority of websites.

Turning off Java

Turning off Java requires different steps depending upon what web browser you use.

For instance, as Oremus writes, in Firefox users must first select “tools” from their browser’s main menu. They should then click “add-ons” and the disable buttons next to any Java plug-ins.

Safari users must first click “Safari” in the main menu bar and then “Preferences.” Once they’ve done this, they can select the “security” tab and make sure that the button next to “enable Java” is not checked.

Google Chrome users need to type “Chrome://Plugins” in their browser’s address bar. They can then click the “disable” button listed below any Java plug-ins.

Don’t touch JavaScript

Here’s a warning, though: Java and Javascript are not the same thing. If you mistakenly disable Javascript on your computer, you won’t do anything to protect yourself from hackers. However, you might make it so that the websites you visit no longer work properly.

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Protecting Your Mobile Devices While Traveling

We take our offices with us when we travel, toting tablets, laptop computers, and smartphones as we meet with clients across the globe, attend seminars hundreds of miles from our offices, and train new employees in remote locations.

Our mobile devices allow us to scan the web, send and receive emails, access PowerPoint presentations, and work on company reports while we’re on the road.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Our mobile devices can also put our businesses at risk. What happens if you lose one of your devices while on the road? How much sensitive company information will you put in the hands of outsiders?

Fortunately, the staff at the Smallbiz Technology provide some important strategies that businesspeople can use to protect their mobile devices while on the road.

Protect the device

The best way to keep your company’s information and data secure? Don’t leave your tablets, smart phones, or laptops out of your sight. Always know where these devices are when you are traveling. Smallbiz Technology recommends that you store these devices in a safe when you’re staying in a hotel room.

Turn to the cloud

The cloud provides business travelers with a secure place to store their company’s reports and sensitive data. This way, even if someone steals a traveler’s laptop or tablet, they won’t find any sensitive information stored on the device. Of course, business travelers must make sure to limit access to their cloud storage with a difficult-to-guess password.

Login passwords are your friends

Smallbiz Technology recommends that business travelers protect their devices with login passwords. This way, if someone steals their device, this thief won’t be able to access the files stored on it unless they crack the password that allows them to log onto the device.

This means, of course, that business travelers must create complex passwords that consist of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely protect your mobile devices while taking business trips. However, those travelers who follow these three simple rules will at least make it less likely that their tablets, laptops, or smartphones will fall into the wrong hands.

Posted in: Business, Mobile Computing, Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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4 Easy Ways to Keep Your Computer Safe

Most of us don’t think about computer security until our desktops and laptops are suddenly infected by viruses. When we can’t log onto the Internet or access our email messages because of malware, we suddenly wish we had taken the steps to protect our computers.

The good news is that protecting your computer is a relatively easy task. It mostly requires some common sense and a few quick fixes.

Business Insider recently provided some suggestions for computer users who want to boost the safety of their machines.

1. Turn off Java

Business Insider led with this for a reason. Java, software that runs interactive functions on some web pages, often opens the doors to hackers. Business Insider cited the 700,000 Apple computers that were—earlier this year—infected with the Flashback Trojan malware. All of the computers were running out-of-date versions of add-ons that let their web browsers run Java.

Turning off Java requires different steps depending on what browsers you are running. If you need assistance, check your browser’s Help section. (Or get in touch with us.)

2. Stay current with all software updates

Busy computer users sometimes forget to check their operating systems for updates. This can be a key mistake: Updates often include protection from the latest viruses. If you ignore software updates, you might be leaving your computer vulnerable to hackers.

If you work on a Mac computer, your updates will be delivered through a system called Software Update. PC software updates come from Windows Update.

3. Lock your computer

Business Insider recommends, appropriately, that computer users lock their computers when the machines are sleeping. Doing this requires that you create a password that users must type in to access your computer.

This might seem like an inconvenience. But, as Business Insider points out, what if someone steals your laptop? If this thief can access your computer without a password, the criminal could easily rummage through your personal files and information.

4. Change your passwords

Business Insider recommends that you change your passwords every month. The site also advises you to create passwords that are difficult for others to guess, like ones that contain letters, numbers, and symbols.

Posted in: Business, Computer Maintenance, Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Apps That Speak Your Language, and Everyone Else’s

You’re traveling overseas this summer for the family vacation of a lifetime. Or maybe you need to travel to a foreign country for business. Problem is, you don’t speak the language.

There’s hope, though, and you can get it from your smartphone. Tech companies today offer a wide range of translation apps for tourists and business professionals who are traveling the globe.

Amy Burke, writing for the American Express OPEN Forum, recently highlighted some of the best of these apps. Here’s what she recommends for travelers who need to surmount those language barriers.


Burke recommends this app, which charges users $4.99 for every language they need to speak, for its ease of use. The app, available on both iPhone and Android devices, allows users to speak into their smartphones or tablets in their native language. It then provides a quick translation into a specific language via text and voice.

Jibbigo comes with more than 40,000 words in its vocabulary. It also doesn’t require a network connection. This can be important to travelers in remote locations.

Dean Foster’s Culture Guides

These guides are a bit more advanced than Jibbigo. As Burke writes, the guides are available for 12 countries so far. The apps provide users with an overview of these countries, maps, weather reports, and currency exchange rates. Of course, it also provides solid translation services.

Word Lens

Here’s an interesting app that relies on your smartphone’s camera to translate. With this app, instead of typing in words or phrases, you can snap a photo of a street sign, menu, or brochure, and Word Lens will translate the writing for you.

The app is a bit limited so far; Burke writes that it only includes Spanish, French, and Italian to English — and vice versa — so far.

Still, it’s a neat idea. The app is free, but each language will cost you $4.99.

These apps represent just a small sampling of translation tools available to travelers today. If you’re making a jaunt overseas, be sure to search your app marketplace for other tools. You might just find the perfect app to get you over the language bump.

Posted in: Business, Mobile Computing, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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Odd Romance: Japan Still Loves the Fax Machine

We think of Japan as being infatuated with all things high-tech. It’s why Apple loves the place; Japanese consumers gobble up the latest iPad and iPod offerings voraciously.

However, there’s one piece of old, old technology for which Japanese consumers still have an unaccountable love — the humble and outdated fax machine.

In the United States we view fax machines as relics—but not at all charming and quaint like, say, an Underwood typewriter. It’s a pain to deal with fax machines and remember all those numbers. And that screeching modem sound? We can certainly live without that.

But in Japan, the fax machine, despite the rise of email, is booming.

Loving the fax

A recent story by BBC News took a closer look at the prominence that the fax machine still holds in Japan. The BBC cited a survey by the Internet Fax Research Institute that found that an amazing 87.5 percent of Japanese businesspeople consider the fax machine to be an indispensable business tool.

The BBC starts its story by interviewing a public-relations expert at a Japanese talent agency. Instead of emailing a proposal for a new project, the public-relations pro was handwriting a letter and faxing it.

His explanation? Communicating in this way better allows his feelings and passions come through.

Handwriting still king

This isn’t unusual in Japan. According to the BBC story, handwriting remains important. In fact, most job seekers handwrite their resumes because Japanese employers judge people’s personalities and character in part from the way they write.

It’s why Japanese holiday cards are almost never sent electronically.

Hard copies are a must

The BBC story says that Japanese people also prefer to hold actual hard copies of documents and correspondence in their hands. This way, there is a more tangible record of what was said during meetings and what was proposed during business workshops.

It might be difficult to imagine in the United States, but there is a high-tech land in which the fax machine isn’t considered a nuisance. So if you’re a fan of the humble fax machine, consider taking a trip to Japan. You’ll get some great food, see some amazing sights, and you’ll be able to enjoy the screeching sound of fax machines in the air.

Posted in: Business, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Not using LinkedIn to Market Your Business? You’re Missing Out

LinkedIn deserves to be ranked among the big three of social media sites, right alongside Facebook and Twitter. But LinkedIn is actually more important for your small business because unlike its rivals, this social-media site focuses specifically on business.

In other words, you won’t have people on LinkedIn posting about how good their oatmeal tasted this morning.

Stephanie Buck, a writer for, recently wrote an illuminating post about how important it is for businesses to turn to LinkedIn for marketing. Here are some of her key points.

Share your successes

As a small business owner you work hard. You have a right to share your success stories. Besides, promoting your company’s successes will also encourage others to look at your business as a successful, thriving company. That’s good marketing.

Buck recommends that small business owners post regularly about their new product lines, hires, and milestones on LinkedIn. She also recommends that owners include links in these posts to their external websites or to their YouTube channels.

Once business owners post these news bits, their updates will automatically show up on the activity feed on their company overview page and on the homepages of those LinkedIn members who follow them.

Find new workers

If your small business is growing, you’ll undoubtedly need to hire new employees. LinkedIn is a great place to find new workers.

When posting new job announcements on LinkedIn, not only will you be attracting the attention of an ever-growing network of business professionals, you’ll also be telling your fellow business pros that you are, indeed, growing. This, too, is positive marketing for your small business.

Expert advice

Buck also points out another benefit of posting regularly on LinkedIn: You can uncover great advice on both marketing and running a successful business from other pros who’ve already done this.

LinkedIn attracts some of the most successful owners of small businesses in the world, and many of these business pros are happy to share their advice and tips with others. Don’t be shy: Ask your fellow LinkedIn professionals for their tips on how to keep a small business bustling in today’s challenging economy.

Posted in: Business, Social Media Marketing, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Need Some Brain Food? Follow These People on Twitter

Admit it: Your Twitter friends just aren’t that engaging. They’re wasting your time tweeting about what they ate for breakfast or what happened to their favorite character on their favorite reality show.

You crave more from Twitter. You actually want to learn something.

You’re in luck. Mashable recently ran a list of 25 Twitter accounts that will make you smarter. Need some brain food? Then follow some of these mentally enriching Twitter accounts.

Trivia that matters

Mashable lists Mental Floss first in its list of 25 must-follow Twitter accounts. The @mental_floss account is actually an extension of Mental Floss magazine. The magazine publishes esoteric trivia on a wide range of topics. For instance, the Mental Floss Twitter example published by Mashable states that for several years fine-art competitions were part of the Olympics. Did you know that?

In the same vein is the @GoogleFacts Twitter account. Though this account isn’t actually affiliated with Google, it does provide plenty of offbeat facts to help make you at least seem smarter. Mashable’s example? “You can’t snore and dream at the same time.”

Some words from the experts

Of course, the best Twitter feeds are often from individuals. Fortunately, Mashable found plenty of smart people using Twitter to share their knowledge with the rest of us. One is Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s an astrophysicist who answers some often strange questions. Again, Mashable provides a great example: Did you know that a fly adds weight to an airplane even if the fly never lands during the plane’s trip?

Elon Musk is plenty interesting, too. He’s the CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors. He usually tweets about science and statistics. For instance, Mashable points to a recent tweet in which Musk pokes fun at the tobacco industry for saying 30 years ago that scientists still disagree on whether smoking causes cancer even though 98 percent of those scientists said that it did.

The big brains

You can also find plenty of stimulating tweets from the biggest brains at the most important scientific and research organizations across the country. Mashable cited NASA as a prime example. NASA’s tweets were especially relevant during the Mars Curiosity rover landing. You might also be interested in following the Twitter account of DARPA, part of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for developing new military technology.

Posted in: Business, Social Media Marketing, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Facing an Emergency? Turn to These Apps

These are dangerous times. Mother Nature is unleashing droughts and record-setting high temperatures. It seems a new tornado is ripping through the Midwest every day. And those are just the big emergencies. What if you lock yourself out of your car when your toddler’s stuck inside it?

Fortunately, there’s a whole class of apps that can help you deal with emergencies big and small.

Here is a closer look at three of these apps that might be able to bail you out in case of an emergency.


AroundMe has been around for a while, but it remains a top locator app. With it, you can find everything from the nearest gas station to the nearest bank.

It’s easy, too, to see how AroundMe might help in case of an emergency.

Say your toddler is sick, you’re in a strange city, and you need to find a hospital as soon as possible. Just log onto the app, click the category that you need — in this case, “Hospital” — and find the nearest medical provider to you.

It’s little surprise that many consumers consider AroundMe to be a must-have app.

CPR & Choking

The name of this app says it all: CPR & Choking will give you tips and full-fledged lessons on how to deal with a person who is choking or who is not breathing. It can be especially handy if you’ve never taken CPR classes or have forgotten what you’ve learned.

This app, which is free, was developed by the University of Washington and King County EMS to save lives. It contains a variety of videos that tell you exactly what to do if someone you know is in the middle of a medical emergency or cardiac event.

There aren’t too many apps that can save a life. CPR & Choking is one of them.

Emergency Radio Free

What if there’s an armed criminal on the loose in your community? What if a tornado has been spotted?

You can stay informed with Emergency Radio Free, an app that lets you access hundreds of police, fire, weather, and other live emergency radio feeds from around the country.

It’s easy, too, to identify and tune into radio feeds in your specific community. You can also save radio feeds to a favorites area so that you can access them quickly should an emergency strike.

Of course, no app, no matter how impressive, will be able to protect you completely from harm should danger arise. These apps, though, will give you the chance to be better prepared should an emergency strike.

Posted in: Business, Social Media Marketing, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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Avoid the Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes

PowerPoint presentations are the vacation slide shows of the business world: we’ve all sat through boring ones that seemed to last forever.

Fortunately, there are several tips that you can follow to avoid creating a PowerPoint presentation that bores your co-workers. This is important: You create PowerPoint presentations to spread your message, promote products and achieve results.

You can’t do this if no one’s paying attention to them.

Don’t Forget the Creativity

As the writers at Microsoft’s Business Hub say, PowerPoint doesn’t give you permission to get lazy. You still have to be creative if you want to develop a winning presentation that grabs the attention of your audience.

This means that you can’t let PowerPoint’s ease of use trick you into thinking that you don’t have to come up with compelling content. Just because you can create an endless series of text-filled slides doesn’t mean that you should.

So don’t. Come to your sales pitch or company meeting armed with interesting and useful information. Don’t just slap some sales numbers on a series of slides. Instead, explain what these numbers mean.

Come with Solutions

You’ll also want to come armed with ways in which your company’s employees can improve these sales numbers.

Another fault of many PowerPoint presentations: they provide information. But they don’t provide useful strategies for how employees can use that information to better the company’s performance.

If your PowerPoint presentation shows that sales are down, make sure you follow up with your own suggestions on why sales have fallen and what the company can do to boost them. If sales are up? Provide information on how your company can maintain its momentum.

Don’t Get Too Fancy

As TrainSignal Training says, it is possible to get too creative with PowerPoint. Many managers clutter their slides with unnecessary photos and graphics. Others stuff charts that are too small to read on their slides. Still others add moving images that do little other than distract. Don’t fall into this trap. The best way to convey a business message is to do it as directly and simply as possible.

And don’t simply fill your PowerPoint slides with the same words that you’re going to read aloud to your audience. You’re not in the first grade. Your audience doesn’t want to read along while you repeat every word that’s on your PowerPoint slides.

PowerPoint remains a powerful business tool. But it’s one that is easy to misuse. Don’t make the mistake of creating a PowerPoint presentation that turns off your audience.

Get more useful tips at Garr Reynolds’ website.

Posted in: Business, MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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