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Five inexpensive VPN options to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECHNOLOGY) If you work on public internet or are just looking to beef up your internet security VPNs could be your answer. Here are five worth looking into.

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VPN options

We must speak, as we so often do, of l33t h4x0rz.

Let’s get blunt. We have reached the point in the evolution of technology where access to your personal data is equivalent to access to everything you own. Data security breach, which involves fewer twentysomethings with improbable hair and more Russian state actors than 90s movies led me to believe, can be the end of a business, especially a small one.

Frustratingly, the mainstream market hasn’t really produced perfect solutions for that. At present, you really have two options.

Option one, you roll with AppleFacebookGoogleSoft. Different companies, same model: hand your data to a giant organization with an affirmative interest in keeping it confidential. That can work! It can also, y’know, not. A lot.

Option two, full infogeek. Pull together All The Information and put it behind tight security you control. We’re big fans of this. On the other hand, we’re geeks. Doing this successfully requires knowledge, specialty tools and changes in behavior that may not be practical for you.

Ain’t exactly optimal, those options. So for the love of the white hat, what’s to do? Where’s the middle ground between “put it in a big sack and hand it to HugeCorpCo” and “lock every 0 and 1 in a painstakingly handcrafted box?”

Meet your friend, the VPN. Virtual private networks aren’t just the irritating things you have to sign into before another constructive day on the cube farm. For any entrepreneur or freelancer who isn’t into a rad Linux solution, a VPN is a straight-up necessity. They’re how you Internet without people keeping logs (your ISP does), tracking your activity (everybody does), or carrying off your innocent data to the dark web or the Kremlin.

Better yet? There are lots of good ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and only a Google away. Here’s five. Unranked, because every VPN is a beautiful snowflake.

IPVanish wins at efficiency. They own 100 percent of their resources, rather than outsourcing any work to third parties. That means high speed and optimal security, since their commitment to keeping zero information on their clients can’t be undercut by nosy contractors.

NordVPN has tech wizardry going for it, with double encryption and even an optional kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the Internet if anything goes amiss with the VPN. Nord also wins at most devices per subscription, and will happily wrap up to 6 of your robots in the warm embrace of infosec.

Private Internet Access, in addition to winning the Most Straightforwardly Named Product Ever award I just made up, is great for power users, with unlimited bandwidth and a subscription allowing up to 5 devices. It’s also super simple, designed to run in the background while you go about your digital day, so for folks who aren’t looking for bundled apps or a shiny interface, this is your guy.

PureVPN gets compatibility cred, since it’s usable across Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even provides proxy workarounds for Chrome and Firefox. It also has a frankly enormous server network, which is good news for speed freaks.

TunnelBear, in addition to being adorable, is extremely user friendly. It’s kind of the anti-PIA, with a rich interface and lots of shiny features. Those features include neat security tricks like Intellibear, allowing users to selectively VPN into particular sites, and Vigilant Mode, which makes like Nord and blocks Internet traffic in case of outages.

Snowflake jokes aside, the list really isn’t ranked, and for reason. Your VPN will be your gateway to the Internet. What works for you is totally contingent on what you do and what you need. There are only two definitive rules.

One, never free. A free trial is fine. “Free VPN” is online shorthand for “place all your information in this bucket, which I will then steal, seal and sell to the Internet’s many, many buyers of evil buckets of data.”

Two, it’s a numbers game. There are countless choices for VPNs on the market. The entries on our list offer substantially similar services to dozens of others. What makes our 5 special?

Twelve bucks. The maximum cost of each of the 5 VPNs above is less than twelve dollars per month. Most cost less: spring for a subscription and you can get the average cost down to 2 or 3 dollars monthly. But month to month, no obligation, even the most expensive entry on the list – that’s a tie between NordVPN and PureVPN – costs you less than twelve dollars a month.

Beat that for peace of mind.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

VR can calm cows to produce better milk. What can VR do for us?

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) If VR can help reduce anxiety in cows and help them produce better milk, what could it do for humans with its wide variety of uses?

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VR productivity

From virtual reality (VR) roller coasters to immersive theatre with VR headsets, we sure have gotten creative with the use of this relatively new technology. But why should humans have all the fun? Recently, a Russian farm has started to put customized VR headsets on its cows.

Yes, you heard us right: these cows are being immersed in the virtual realm of a beautiful summer field.

According to Moscow’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food, there’s actually research that shows cows yield better milk production when they’re in a calm environment. Not only can they produce more milk, but sometimes it’s even higher quality milk!

The virtual reality experiment tested if a simulation of a calmer environment could produce similar yields, and initial results say yes! In fact, the entire herd’s mood improved after the short term study. The study will continue long term and if good results continue, it will likely expand.

If VR can be beneficial for cows, what could it do for humans?

One study explored its potential as a pain reliever. Burn patients were tested on pain levels while being treated (an extremely painful procedure) and reported feeling significantly less pain while playing VR! It’s likely because immersing someone forces the brain to focus on the virtual world, rather than the pain. Virtual reality has also been used for rehabilitation, like helping individuals with Parkinson’s disease improve their muscle control.

Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is also studying various capabilities of virtual reality. Many experiments center around whether or not immersion can change attitudes and behaviors in the real world. They’ve created simulations to try to increase anything from empathy for the homeless, an understanding of racism, to kind acts in the real world. Although these are all initial studies, the results have been promising!

And yes, just like with cows, studies are finding that virtual reality could help reduce anxiety in humans.

Of course, as far as technology goes, virtual reality is still in its infancy. From reducing pain in humans to increasing milk yield in cows, we’ve really only scratched the surface of virtual reality’s potential applications.

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Real Estate Technology

Emoji ladened tweets are not accessible to the blind; let’s fix this.

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Emoji have created a funny inventive way to communicate in modern times, but they may be unintentionally excluding blind people.

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If you can't read this you are now in the same situation as the blind trying to read an emoji tweet

Blind blogger Holly Scott-Gardner went viral in mid November when she tweeted out a video of her screen reader struggling to make sense of an emoji-laden meme tweet. The meme form features an all-caps message in the center of a sea of emoji hands. The hands encompass the full spectrum of skin tones and surround the message on all sides, as though a crowd of people are all gesturing towards it for emphasis.

It takes Scott-Gardner’s screen reader a full two minutes to read the tweet, which consists solely of the words “STOP CENSORING SEX-POSITIVE CONTENT.” The majority of the video consists of her screen reader rattling off emoji, row by row from left to right, at blazing speed. Not only is the description of the tweet useless, it’s also a little terrifying to imagine how long it would take the reader to describe the tweet in a normal speaking speed.

Scott-Gardner gamely fielded questions from people, including “how is there not some kind of alt-text option for tweets?” Her answer is that there is one. (You can turn it on here and start writing alt-text for your own tweets.) However, it only works for images, not for memes made out of emoji.

Of course, she can turn off the emoji, but as linguists Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch point out, emoji are gestural, not symbolic. They hold a key part in modern written language. Since it’s impossible to read body language and facial expressions across the digital divide, emoji have come to take their place. They’re crucial to understanding context and tone.

Scott-Gardner followed up with a second video showing what ASCII art sounds like on a screen reader, and it was similarly incomprehensible. (She did her audience the favor of slowing the screen reader down a bit for the follow-up.)

It goes without saying that Internet access is a necessity to meaningfully participate in modern society, and questions of accessibility are more important than ever if the Internet truly is going to be the democratizing force it was heralded as when it first came along.

Domino’s Pizza recently made headlines when they argued in court that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t apply to digital spaces. Guillermo Robles, a blind California resident, sued the company for violating the ADA when neither their app nor their website were accessible to his screen reader.

Rather than spend the $38,000 they estimated were necessary to make the changes, they decided to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting Domino’s loss in a lower court stand.

You may know that website accessibility principles like alt text help your SEO. You hopefully know that having an accessible online presence is important from a “basic human decency” perspective. But in addition to those things, it’s also a huge liability issue that companies would do well to make sure they’re addressing. If you need a place to start, the UK Government has a handy primer on the basics of accessible web design.

And if you’re interested in hearing more from Holly Scott-Gardner, she keeps her writings and her Working Blind podcast at her website.

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Real Estate Technology

T-mobile releases “5G for all” plan – don’t fall for the 5G trap

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) T-Mobile hopes to unveil its “5G for all” network soon, but there could be some issues, and barriers to entry that consumers should be aware of

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t-mobile tower

T-Mobile has launched its new “5G for All” network ahead of schedule, but let’s hold the applause for now. The 5G network will cover more than one million square miles and over 200 million people. This is great news for customers in more rural areas who have not yet benefited from the introduction of 5G networks. But, as exciting as the idea of a nation-wide 5G network is, there are still some wrinkles to iron out.

The 5G is less powerful than other networks.

A major limitation of the T-Mobile network is that it is “low-band” with only 600MHz 5G. In comparison, AT&T and Verizon can offer customers much faster 5G coverage, but the trade-off is these are only available in certain pockets, mainly in metro areas. Depending on what kind of service you’re currently working with, the “low-band” 5G could either be a nice change or a total waste of money. Even though T-Mobile says their 5G plans will cost the same as standard LTE plans, there is a financial barrier to entry, but more on that later.

T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint is still not official.

T-Mobile is currently in negotiations to merge with Sprint which will enable them to add Sprint’s 5G spectrum (2.5 GHz) to their network. This would add tremendous value to their customers in terms of speed and service range. With both networks combined T-Mobile will be much closer to fulfilling their dream of creating a 5G network for all.

You need a 5G compatible phone to access the network.

Even if the merger does close and T-Mobile does succeed in launching a powerful 5G network across the nation, you wouldn’t notice unless you had the right tech. In order to reap the benefits of the 5G network, customers will need a shiny, new 5G-enabled phone like the Samsung Galaxy S10+5G.

The theory of a nation-wide 5G service is appealing, but we’re still a way off from seeing this dream to fruition. Until T-Mobile can figure out these issues, customers should exercise patience and hold onto their current phones.

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