Saturday, February 13, 2010

Three cool tools

1. Localocracy. Email lists, blogs and online bulletin boards are all used to talk about local politics, but they're all less-than-ideal forums for ideas. Discussions easily wander off topic, anonymous people can make nasty personal attacks and the people with the most time on their hands (or who are the most willing to spend hours reading blogs or mailing lists) can overwhelm the discussion.

Localocracy is an Amherst start-up that's trying a new approach for discussing local issues, and they're using Spring Town Meeting as a "beta test." Any registered Amherst voter can sign up for free and give their opinions, and anybody at all can go and see what people in Amherst are talking about.

2. Dropbox. Create a folder that's shared on all of your Windows, Mac and Linux machines (and on your iPhone, if you like). Michele tried a couple of solutions before settling on Dropbox-- she'd email herself files before heading home (WAY to easy to get confused about which was the latest version) and she tried carrying an external USB disk back and forth to work (inconvenient and losing or dropping the disk or thumb drive would be a minor disaster). Dropbox has been working perfectly for her; it's easy and the first two gigabytes of storage is free.

3. LastPass. One of my technical interests is computer security, but until recently I was pretty lazy about passwords. I used one "low security" password (easily guessed, something like "password123") for all the websites where I didn't really care about security. I'm not terribly worried about somebody guessing my password and adding "The Bad Girls Club" to my viewing queue. And I used a "high security," not-easily-guessed password for everything else (banking sites, online stock broker, etc).

OpenID is starting to solve the "every website in the world wants me to create a new username and password" problem, but until OpenID is supported everywhere I'll be using LastPass. It lets me have a different, super-secure password for every website I visit, all protected by one super-secure password that is all I need to remember. It works on Mac, Windows and Linux (and on your iPhone or BlackBerry if you upgrade to the $1-per-month Premium version), and even though all my passwords are stored encrypted on the Lastpass servers, my master password never leaves my computers so it's as secure as possible.

They even make it easy to export all of your passwords so I can back them up into my safe-deposit box (or in an encrypted folder on my hard drive) just in case LastPass ever goes out of business. Nice!

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