Services and Add-ons

As a kind of miscellaneous category, I’ve lumped together several disparate apps or add-ons that have become regulars in my computer use.

I suppose because it was the first cloud file storage service I was aware of, Dropbox continues to be the one I use. I’ve tried One Drive and Google Docs a little, but like Dropbox better. Also, I do not really need more than one place. Someday I might choose to use one of those as a kind of backup, but so far, I have not seen the need for that.

As I mentioned in a previous post about my use of Twitter, I have kept my Facebook account purely for lurking. I never post anything, and long ago deleted what little I had done. I have my privacy settings at the highest level possible. Even so, I’m considering deleting the account completely, because I am so thoroughly disgusted with its failure to follow its own policies consistently, and its intentionally vague responses to avoid full transparency.

Pocket has become one of the most useful services for me. The quick and easy ability to save a site to read later is one of the handiest items created, in my opinion. (When I first began to use it, it was called Read It Later, which still is an excellent name for the purpose.) I learned toward the end of 2018, via a note from Pocket, that I was in the top 10% of users last year, which was a real surprise. And, I’m still a little leery about believing it, but I have used the service for more than just reading later. It has become a kind of archive of stories, sites, etc. grouped by topics I created by use of tags. I have no clue how many sites I’ve saved, but I find it a good way to go back to items I want to use again. Another great feature is it is available on all platforms, so when using the iPad or cellphone items can be saved quickly.

Several years ago, I found Google Reader a useful app and used it for my homepage. It has long since met its demise, but igHome was built by a developer who intentionally created it as knock-off of Google Reader. I have used it now for years as my home page on at least one of my computers.

My Yahoo also was a decent home page option when I was following sports more closely than I am now, but I have discontinued using it. I’ve tried a few other such as Start.me and more recently Protopage, but do not like them as well as igHome.

One add-on I have used for years is Web of Trust (WOT). Some browsers have discontinued it, but it still works fine in Firefox and Chrome. For a brief period of time a couple of years ago, it has some serious security issues, but they have been corrected. The little green/orange/red circle serves as one reminder of taking care not to visit dangerous sites online.

Other add-ons in Firefox: Privacy Badger, DuckDuckGo privacy Essentials, uBlock Origin, Facebook Political Ad Collector, Start Page private search engine, Save to Pocket

Other add-ons in Chrome: Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, Save to Pocket

The most recent add-on I am now using with Firefox is Feedbro. It is one of the replacements for Firefox’s own feed reader that was just discontinued recently. I have come to really like Feedbro, and had I known about it sooner I would have used it instead of the built-in reader.

For the most part, I do not like to use add-ons, preferring to keep the browser lean, so these are the only ones I use now.

 

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Communication Software

Discord has become the primary program I use for audio and video calls. Most often it is used audio only during gaming, but over the holidays the video was nice for connecting with family far away.

We used to use Facetime because we all had one or more Apple products, but I think Discord might be a bit better quality overall. We probably still will use Facetime at some point when it is most convenient, but because Discord runs on all platforms, we used it this time so we could use a larger screen.

I use Tweet Deck daily to see all of my Twitter accounts simultaneously. It has been very reliable and so I rarely use Twitter only on my pc’s. On my cellphone, occasionally I will use the Twitter app switching from one account to another as I read. I am almost exclusively a lurker on Twitter and use several accounts for easier management of the different topics of interest to me. However, the primary exception to my lurking is auto-Tweeting the posts of this Tech Muddler blog. That is one way to follow this blog without manually checking the website regularly. One can also follow via email or RSS feed.

Skype used to be the primary program for audio during gaming, but the interface changed so much with Windows 10, I became disenchanted with it. Also, my grandsons introduced me to Discord, which seems to provide better sound quality, so that is now what we use.

 

Email Programs and Providers

When I first thought about this category, I was thinking only of the installed programs we use regularly – Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. (Opera Mail is another installed program we have tried a couple of different times, but it is too limited for our regular uses, so I have uninstalled it.)

I like both Outlook and Thunderbird quite well, taking advantage of the different options and features they provide. Our desktop has Microsoft Office 2016 (a version that includes Outlook) so that is the default email program on that machine. My laptop has Thunderbird as the default program. When upgrading to Office 2016, I did not want to pay for the full version for the laptop, so got the Home and Student Edition. That meant choosing another email option and Thunderbird is by far my preference over other options I’ve looked at over the years.

After more thought about what to include in this category, I’ve decided to discuss all the myriad other online email providers here also. They could be considered services as well, but since they provide the basic email function, the primary focus of this post, I’ll include them here.

For various reasons I won’t bore you with here, I use numerous different providers and maintain many email accounts, some more than one with a provider. The one attribute I require of a provider – it must be free. Almost all the ones I use also allow POP3 access without charge. A few I rarely use anymore have never allowed POP3 or now charge for that service.

The most heavily used are:

  • Mediacom – my cable/internet/phone provider
  • GMX – an online provider based in Europe
  • Gmail
  • Microsoft Mail (Windows 10)
  • Riseup – a very secure provider focused on support for activists’ email and newsletters. It is located somewhere in the northwest of the United States, but for security reasons, they will not say exactly where. It is free, but to get an account one has to submit a statement of the activist work you are involved in.

The full list of others I still have active:

  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo
  • GishPuppy– no free POP3 access, actually an alias account that auto forwards to your real account without giving the sender that information
  • Hushmail– no free POP3 access in free version, but no tracking
  • Juno – no free POP3 access in the free version (I have had this the longest of all and just use it occasionally as the second email option for other accounts)

I have been using various email options for well over thirty years, so have a little experience with some of the earliest programs. CompuServe was my first private account. Around the same time, the university I worked for began setting up online email for employees only. It was Unix-based and Pine was the program that we used accessed via dial-up.

I never used Prodigy and tried AOL for a while, both competitors then with CompuServe, but never really found them what I liked.

A few years later, I changed institutions and the college I worked for had a similar dial-up system for email. For my private, home email I used NetZero and Juno – both free dial-up servers. Soon after, the college switched to using Pegasus Mail on their network. Because it was free, I installed it at home right away, and that quickly became my favorite for many years. I tried Outlook Express but did not really like it.

Another change of colleges and I had to learn a whole new set of programs. The new college was migrating from a Novell network and software to Microsoft. I was used to using Novell and Corel Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, Presentation, etc. so the learning curve was a bit steep at first. Eventually, I decided it would be easier to have the Microsoft Office at home as well, so bought it with the educator discount – a substantial savings over the retail price. Ever since, Office has been a staple in my computer use. With improvements in later versions, Outlook is now a very powerful program, and probably my preference overall.

In that new location, Cox cable was the provider for my home service, and that was my first experience of having email accounts through a cable provider. It worked well most of the time, so when we moved to our current location, Mediacom became my primary email provider and still is.

For now, that concludes the saga of my email use.

 

Minecraft

The first time I played Minecraft, one grandson had me play on their laptop using another person’s login. He coached me on how to do various things including how to get through the first day and night in survival mode. Soon the other grandson asked to open the game up to the LAN and he joined the game. As a result, I learned quickly how the game can become a multiplayer game almost instantly. From that simple beginning I was hooked, and immediately downloaded, installed and bought my own Minecraft login. (Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, establishes a permanent login after you purchase the game. You can then download the game and install it on as many computers as you wish.)

Not long after that first experience, the older of the two grandsons established his own server using MCHosting as the platform for it. That meant all three of us could play online together no matter where we were. I don’t recall the exact timing, but probably within a year I decided to use the same hosting service and created my own server so I could learn more about that aspect of gaming and technology.

I, in turn, introduced Minecraft to my son and his daughter and they quickly decided they wanted it as well, so they both got their own login accounts and off we went. I now had two households in different states to play Minecraft with and several times all five of us were playing on one or another of our servers from three different states hundreds of miles apart.

My son tried a different hosting service when he set up his server (GGServers) and it had quite a bit lower monthly fee, so I decided to add a second server for myself and explore the two hosting services to see which one I liked best never intending to keep more than one server for very long. Eventually I settled on keeping the MCHosting because it was a little better overall and generally had less lag. I attributed that to my server location being at their Chicago hub while the GGServers server was in Montreal, much farther away.

As the grandsons have grown – one in second year of college, the other a high school senior – we have done less gaming together, but I still have some fun gaming with my son and granddaughter, who is in middle school and continues to enjoy several games. She, of course, does most of her gaming with her friends, which is appropriate.

As a result of the lower demand for it, I have discontinued having my own server. We now mostly play when we are in the same location and LAN works just fine.

I, on the other hand, continue to thoroughly enjoy playing Minecraft in single player mode, trying out new things and building new structures. Each major Minecraft update adds more features to explore and the latest version, officially called Update Aquatic (1.13.1), is no exception, with all the water features and creatures.