On one hand, we have instant access to a wealth of information, friends, and entertainment. But on the other hand, we are swimming in a sea of dubious content, shady characters, and platforms that are constantly playing whack-a-mole against offensive postings.
This is particularly problematic for the youngest users–internet-enabled kids being raised by dial-up parents. In an effort to help kids be empowered and informed users online, educators and organizations across the country (and globe) have been promoting online safety, digital citizenship, and media literacy programs.
Now Google is stepping up with its “Be Internet Awesome” campaign, which includes an array of resources and a corresponding video game.
“I couldn’t imagine what the world we be like without the Internet today,” says one of the children featured in Google’s Be Internet Awesome campaign video. His sentiment appears to be the overarching theme that we are entering a new normal where the internet is moving from a novelty to a given. But have we adjusted accordingly?
The difficulty with programs promoting online safety and digital citizenship is that they can sometimes fall into the “eat your broccoli” or stranger/danger camp, which may limit their effectiveness and buy-in. Google, and others, need to walk a fine balance between promoting the benefits of an interconnected global community and also making users aware of the dangers. The “Be Internet Awesome” bridges this duality by focusing on a holistic digital citizen–a balance between protective skills and being adequately informed and engaged.
The free Be Internet Awesome resources are designed to educate kids about issues such as protecting passwords, not falling for fake news or scams, and being kind online. For both the curriculum and the corresponding game, kids go…
The web’s favorite file format just turned 30. Yep, it turns out the GIF is a millennial, too.
At the same time, 30 makes the GIF ancient in web years, which feels a bit weird, given that the proliferation of animated GIFs is a relatively recent phenomenon. Today, Twitter has a GIF button and even Apple added GIF search to its iOS messaging app. Such mainstream approval would have seemed unthinkable even a decade ago, when GIFs had the cultural cachet of blinking text and embedded MIDI files. But today they’re ubiquitous, and not in some nostalgic sense.
Animated GIFs have transcended their obscure 1990s roots to become a key part of day-to-day digital communication. Some, like Orson Welles clapping or Michael Jackson eating popcorn, have become instantly recognizable shorthand. Others, like Sean Spicer disappearing into the bushes—itself a remix of a popular Simpsons GIF—serve up political satire. The GIF does double duty as both expression and as badge of digital literacy. Not bad for an image standard that pre-dates the web itself.
Today GIFs are synonymous with short, looping, animations. But they got their start as a way of displaying still images. Steve Wilhite started work on the Graphics Interchange Format in early 1986. At the time, he was a programmer for Compuserve, an early online service that let users access chat rooms, forums, and information like stock quotes using dial-up modems. Sandy Trevor, Wilhite’s boss at Compuserve, tells WIRED that he wanted to solve two problems.
The first was that Compuserve needed a graphics format that worked on all computers. At the time, the PC market was split between several companies, including Apple, Atari, Commodore, IBM, and Tandy, each with its own way of displaying graphics. Compuserve had used other graphics formats of the era, such as NAPLPS, but Trevor thought they were too complex to implement. So he tasked Wilhite with creating a simple format that would work on any machine.
Second, he wanted Wilhite to create technology that could quickly display sharp images over slow connections. “In the eighties, 1200 baud was high speed,” Trevor says. “Lots of people only had 300 baud modems.” The average broadband connection in the US is more than 40,000 times faster than even those blazing fast 1200 baud connections, so Compuserve needed truly tiny files.
The web’s other major image format, the JPEG, was under development at the time. But it’s better suited for photographs and other images that contain high amounts of detail and won’t suffer from a small amount of distortion. Compuserve needed to display stock quotes, weather maps, and other graphs—simple images that would suffer from having jagged lines. So Wilhite decided to base the GIF on a lossless compression protocol called Lempel–Ziv–Welch, or LZW.
Wilhite finished the first version of the GIF specification on May, 1987, and Compuserve began using the format the next month. This was two years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee…
You can enjoy the convenience of a whole-house phone line without shelling out your hard earned money to your local telecommunications provider. Read on as we show you how to ditch the phone bill, keep the land line, and enjoy free local and long distance calling in the process.
How VoIP Differs from a Traditional Land Line
There are three ways you can pipe phone service into your home: a traditional land line setup through your local phone provider, a cell-phone bridge that extends your cellular plan to your home phone system, and a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) system that uses your Internet connection to bridge your home phone system to a VoIP provider that routes your phone calls back out to the regular telephone grid. But most versions of these plans are expensive:
Traditional Land Lines: Traditional land line setups are generally expensive for what you get. Basic packages run around $15 a month and don’t include regional or national long distance calling, or amenities like caller ID. Adding in a modest long distance package and those amenities can easily push the price of a standard land line above $40-50 a month. Traditional phone service includes a host of taxes, regulatory fees, and other charges that can easily add $15 to your bill. All told, a single land line with basic long distance features can easily run you $60+ a month.
Cellphones: Bridging your cellphone plan to your home phone system—whether via a special device provided by your cell company or with a home phone that supports Bluetooth linking—is also expensive, as you generally need to purchase a second line on your cell plan and/or potentially add extra minutes with an upgraded plan to cover the home phone usage. For most people, this would add on anywhere from $10-40 on their already pricey cellphone plan. Like traditional land lines, cellphone lines also incur taxes and regulatory fees. In addition the viability of this method is based on cellular reception. Get bad service in your home? Bridging your cellphone to your home phone isn’t going to fix that.
Voice-over-IP Systems: VoIP is the newest method of linking your home phone system to the outside world and varies wildly in terms of service quality and price. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) now bundle VoIP calling with their internet package—in fact, AT&T and Verizon are aggressively pushing customers towards VoIP systems—but the price of the add-on phone service is routinely as expensive as a traditional land line ($30-40). Depending on the provider, VoIP services may or may not collect taxes and regulatory fees—generally, if your VoIP service is bundled with your internet and/or cable service provided by a traditional telecommunications company, you will be paying the additional fees just like you would with a land line or cellphone.
If you stick with a traditional land line, a cellphone bridge, or a VoIP system provided by your phone company or ISP, phone service will cost you anywhere between $200-600 annually—money we would all certainly be happy to spend on other things. None of that sounds particularly appealing if you’re looking to add some breathing room to your budget. Fortunately, with a small investment up front you can reduce your monthly home phone bill all the way to $0 per month (and mere $1 a month if you want to add in 911 service). All you need is a VoIP adapter and a free Google Voice account. Sound good? You bet it does; let’s get started.
What You’ll Need
To follow along with our VoIP tutorial, you will the following things:
Broadband Internet Access. (Unfortunately, VoIP is prohibitively bandwidth-hungry for dial-up.)
One OBi200 ($48), OBi202 ($64), or OBi110 ($70) VoIP Adapter (see our notes below to see which model is best suited for you).
Not sure what any of this means? Here’s an explanation.
What’s the Difference Between the Obi VoIP Adapters?
For the most part, the two newest OBi models—the 200 and the 202—are functionally identical. Both have updated hardware, both support up to 4 VOiP services, and both support the T.38 fax protocol (for IP-to-IP address faxing). The OBi202, however, includes two additional features that may be of use to you. First, the OBi202 supports 2 separate phone lines. If your home is wired for multiple phone lines and you wish to preserve that experience when you switch over to a VoIP system, the OBi202 allows you to hook up 2 lines to ring two separate phone systems in your home.
Additionally, the OBi202 includes VoIP-specific router functionality. If you plug the OBi202 box in between your modem and router, the OBi202 will automatically prioritize all VoIP traffic before any other internet traffic to ensure optimum call quality. This feature is of more limited utility than the dual-phone-line feature, however, as nearly every router supports custom Quality of Service rules to achieve this same end and, honestly, in our personal experience with years of VoIP use, we’ve never had issues with heavy internet use lowering call quality.
Finally, both models have a USB port that accepts OBi accessories like the OBiWiFi5 ($25, a Wi-Fi adapter for your OBi unit), the OBiBT ($23, a Bluetooth adapter so you can answer your cellphone using your home phone system), and the OBiLINE ($40, allows your OBi200 or OBi202 to connect to a land line).
What’s the benefit of connecting your OBi VoIP unit to a traditional land line? One of the few drawbacks of using a many VoIP services, including Google Voice, is that they do not include traditional emergency number (e.g. 911) support. If retaining traditional access to your local 911 service is critical (or you want to keep a barebones line for use with a security system) then opting for a the OBi200 or OBi202 (with the USB adapter) or the older OBi110 (which includes an extra built in RJ45 jack for this purpose) is necessary.
If you’re comfortable using E911 service (which is simply an adaptation of the traditional 911 service for cellular phone and VoIP technology), we will show you how to set that up later in the tutorial, and you don’t need your basic land line. If you haven’t tried to sign up for a basic phone line in awhile, you will likely be shocked by the price—our local phone provider insisted that $35 a month was as low as they could possibly go for a local only, 911-enabled phone line with no extra amenities.
Do I Have to Use a Google Voice Account?
You do not have to use Google Voice as your VoIP provider. OBi VoIP adapters are not locked to any given service and can be used with multiple services including Anveo, Callcentric, CallWithUs, InPhonex, RingCentral, Sipgate, Vitelity, VoIP.ms, and VoIPo. In addition you can manually configure many other VoIP providers to work with your OBi device.
We are using Google Voice because it’s absolutely free for North American to North American calls and features dirt-cheap $0.01 per minute international calling. Should that change in the future, you can easily change your OBi device to use a more economical VoIP provider.