Use the Internet to Never Leave Home Again
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru Although I recently spoke with Bill Lake who is the FCC head of the DTV switchover, I’m not going to talk about DTV (even though the cutover is in less than two weeks). I believe we’ve all been reminded until we’ve shut our brains down when the topic comes up. I’m also not going to talk this week about the Conficker virus, despite the fact that it has been stealing millions of people’s identities over the past month. It’s been the most successfully evil virus of all time, and it’s not even technically a virus. It’s a worm. If you haven’t listened to what I’ve said about it by now, well, I guess you’re on your own. Even though these once popular topics are in the present, we’re going to pretend they’re in the past. Let’s move forward and talk about how to save money. A topic that’s always in vogue. Now that gas is once again bordering on being unaffordable, it’s a great time to learn new ways to use the internet to avoid going anywhere, but still get everything you need to do done. Here is a list of things you can do on the internet safely, assuming that Conficker and any of the other hundreds of thousands of viruses, malware, and spyware programs aren’t on your computer. Buy and Sell a House- If you live in Oregon, you can shop for houses at your leisure by going to the quick search button at RMLS.com. Just pick the city or county and type in your parameters, such as how much you want to spend, how many bedrooms or bathrooms, house or lot size, and even the school district of your choice. The great thing about this site is that you don’t have to sign up or register to see the information. If you want to see how badly the recession has hit your home’s value, then go to zillow.com. This is another site you don’t need to login to see the good stuff. You can check out your home’s value and see what your neighbor’s is as well. Also see taxes, photos, and comp values. If you ask a realtor, however, they will warn you that the prices are not all that accurate. Use it as a rule of thumb rather than an actual value. The tax and previous sale info is accurate, and you will find it very useful. Warning: You may have to leave your current home to move to a new home. Secure your Home- A security camera can help you see if anyone is hanging around outside your home, or in your home if you’re away. You can place wired or wireless cameras anywhere you like and see everything that’s going on from your computer or television. For more details, check out a previous article I wrote on this subject here: http://community.koinlocal6.com/blogs/current_hot_topics/archive/2009/04/13/3878444.aspx Order Food and Groceries- Believe it or not, you can still order your groceries online and most people are saying they really love the service. The biggest concern is always going to be about the meat and veggies, since picking those are subject to your own quirkiness (is it ripe if I thump it and it sounds like a C#?). www.newseasonsmarket.com and www.safeway.com are still in the delivery business. I have heard a lot of people tell me they didn’t know this was still available when homegrocer.com exploded in the Dot Bomb era. Albertsons no longer delivers in the Portland area. The prices are the same as going to the store, but “at home” delivery is an additional $10. For a lesser charge you can have them do all the shopping and you can pick it up, but if you’re unable or unwilling to leave your home, then $10 is a small price to pay. Now you, too, can be an Agoraphobic and still eat. Communicate with People- If you like people but have a hard time dealing with them in person, then online communities may be for you. No Swine Flu transfer going on in here. Facebook and My Space allow you to create your own homepage and show your personality. Twitter allows you to send short messages to groups of people, but for interactive communication you should choose an Instant Messaging community. AOL’s Instant Messenger, or Yahoo’s IM, among others, are great for this. They allow you to choose a category such as gardening, or a location such as Portland, and then you can find other likeminded people who want to chat about it. You can even use your web cam or microphone to talk, if you choose to have a personal chat. Typing the communication is easier if you want to address a room full of people and see multiple responses. For example: if you can’t figure out why the leaves of your Japanese Maple have yet to grow, you can get a lot of opinions all at once by typing the question in a chat room. The programs are free and there are lots to choose from. Travel to 3D Worlds- If you want more than just a 2D screen where you just type and instant message other people, then consider a 3D world like the ones from there.com and secondlife.com. You can have your own home and lot where you can decorate it to your heart’s content. Maybe you can’t afford a mansion in real life but, for just a few dollars, you can have one in the world of 3D. You can fly, hover, or go to virtual parties. The options are endless. Your entire social life can be virtual if you like. No one will ever complain about your lack of bathing while living “In World,”, as they call it. You can use a headset to talk to people one on one or to a bunch of people in a room. You can go to their homes and check out their décor or clothing. It’s really an amazing experience. Shop for Anything- Amazon.com is the king of all shopping sites. Of course, every brick and mortar store has a website as well, but some sites will search for you and find the best price from all popular websites in one click. Pricegrabber.com and shopzilla.com make it easy to find the best deal. They don’t always take into account a special coupon offer or sale price, but in general they are good places to go to have them do the research for you. Read Anything- You may already know that google.com has thousands of books you can read for free. If not, then go there and click on the More section and then choose Books. You can also read books on the new portable Kindle from Amazon.com. It does run hundreds of dollars, but you no longer have to carry around bulky books or newspapers. There is another group of free nonprofit sites that will give you all known books in history (that are out of copyright protection) and allow you to read them, or they can read them back to you. In some cases, the readings are done by real people while others are digitized and sound like the Macintosh from the 1980’s. www.gutenberg.org is the best site for this. Find a Soul Mate- Many years ago when America On Line first came out, I used to use the Instant Messaging section mentioned earlier while I was at work. I was self employed so no one could be mad at me about it, except me. One day I came across someone I found very interesting and we struck up a conversation. A month later she agreed to meet me in person and batta bing we were married 18 months later. There are now a lot of dating sites online. Most of them require a fee and a profile. Match.com is one of the biggest as well as eharmony.com, but for a lot less money you can find your mate in the personals of Yahoo or even the newspaper’s online classifieds. You can even try out craigslist.com for free, but watch out for the scammers. Work and Make Money- Many employers are offering their office workers the ability to work from home. There are all kinds of dangers from hackers or thieves if you have a laptop, but with the proper precautions, it’s still a great way to work. In some cases, if you pick the right employer from places like dice.com and monster.com, you can do your entire job from home. When you do a job search, just put in “remote work” in the search box when you’re looking for that dream job in your fuzzy slippers. If you already have a job you love but hate going there, then talk to your boss about what it would take to set up a remote workspace. Tell them they will be able to use your desk at work for storage and they may just love the idea. Using the internet, they can even transfer your phone to your home as if you were actually in the office. Bank Online- You may already be banking online, but if not, then it’s very simple to go to your bank’s website and choose the sign up option. After you create a login, the site will ask you what your account number is. Within a few minutes, you will be viewing your transactions and balances securely online. Besides just logging in, you can link up all your accounts and move money between them without ever going to a bank. You can also sign up for Bill Pay and send out all your checks for free. It costs the bank less money than when you use paper checks, which is why they encourage you to do this. If you don’t see all your accounts in the one login, then you should call your bank and ask them to link them up for you. In some cases, you can even use a fax/scanner to deposit paper checks from home. The banks don’t want you there because it costs money to keep staff to help you, and they will find any way possible to keep you from coming in. That’s fine by me. Trade Stocks- It’s so easy to make and lose a fortune by trading online, you’ll think you’re already in Vegas. Signing up is easy at places like Ameritrade.com or Scottrade.com. You can now even link up your bank account to it and transfer money into your stock trading account without having to send them a check (like you had to do in the old days of 2003). If you’re new to stocks then it can be scary, and you can make a very expensive mistake. I suggest you take an online course first at a place like www.tradingacademy.com. Well, there’s a lot more you can do online so you never have to leave your home again. The internet has brought all kinds of disabled people into a social life they never thought possible, but it also gives busy bipeds a way to solve their problems and do things they had to drive around town to do before. Take a trip inside rather than out, and see how much you can save by never leaving your home again. It’s too scary outside anyway. If you want to know how to do something online you didn’t see here, just send me an email. For more great tips, check back here and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10 AM in Seattle on KOL, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com. If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.