Spam levels are declining – a couple of possible explanations for the phenomenon

Email spam saw a massive decline at the end of last year. One company’s report shows a decrease of 150 billion spam messages per day from August to December. Although it’s difficult to say for sure what caused this decline, these are some of the best guesses.

Inactive botnets
Botnets are networks of infected computers which are the cause of the majority of the world’s spam. Just one of the botnets, Rustock, was responsible for nearly 50% of all global spam at its peak. Rustock, along with two of the other prominent botnets stopped churning out so much spam in December.

Typically, when botnets stop producing spam it is due to a temporary disruption in the network, but at least one of the three major botnets still seems to be intact. It could be that the people running the networks are just deciding to stop spamming, for whatever reason.

Anti-spam campaigns
Spammers are primarily driven by profit. When they stop seeing profit as a result of their efforts, they are likely to give up and move on to something else.

It seems that a number of recent anti-spam campaigns have caused several spammers to lose profitability and shut down. One of the biggest spammers, Spamit, closed in September due to increased attention caused by these campaigns.

Other outlets
One very credible explanation could be that spam isn’t declining so much as it is just being transferred to other forms of media. Twitter and Facebook, for example, have recently become huge outlets for spam.

Although all of these theories provide possible explanations, there is no way of knowing for sure what is causing this decline in spam. If you’re interested in reading more on the topic, check out this BBC News article.

How to carefully remove a USB device

Unplugging a USB device without ejecting it from your computer can be a scary concept. The majority of us know the alarming warning icon that pops up on an iPod when you plug it into your computer. Does the danger associated with preemptively unplugging an iPod pertain to all USB devices?

Most of us have taken the risk of removing the device without taking the proper steps. And for many of us, the device came out unscathed. But what are the other potential outcomes?

One of two things can happen if you remove the device before ejecting it:

  1. Nothing. Your data will remain undamaged and you will cause no harm to the USB device or to the computer
  2. The device can become corrupted, along with all its contents. This is sometimes reparable, but can be very frustrating nonetheless

Although many people can just unplug their devices without inflicting any damage, it is still best to eject it first to avoid the inconvenience of lost data that is always a possible consequence.

For a guide to quickly and easily ejecting your contraptions check out this article.

Strategies for finding your ideal desk height

Most of us spend a good chunk of the day sitting at a desk. So, selecting desks that fit our bodies is a vital part of our everyday comfort. There is one factor, however, that many people don’t consider when looking for a desk, and that’s height.

Ergonomically correct office furniture can prevent chronic strain. Not to mention, the increased comfort can help make you more productive.

In order to ensure a desk is the right height for you, you should:

  • Sit down in the position you’d be in while using the desk
  • Rest your arms at your sides
  • Bend your elbow at a 90 degree angle keeping your upper arms in line with your torso

If the desk is a good height for you, your hands should rest comfortable on its surface. For minor adjustments, consider using an adjustable chair or a desk with a pullout keyboard drawer. 

Using a desk that is the ideal height can save you a great deal of unnecessary discomfort, including potential chronic back problems. So, putting in a little time and effort to find the perfect desk is typically worth it.

For more information on finding the proper desk height, check out this Lifehacker article.

How to effectively preserve your smartphone battery

For many of us, our smartphone is our primary link to the outside world. So, when that smartphone is out of commission because of a dead battery or something worse, we can feel totally lost. Fortunately, there are a number of simple tricks that can help preserve your phone’s battery life for both the short and long-term.

Shut off 3G or 4G
3G and 4G capabilities allow your phone to constantly “talk” to the Internet, which can consume a great deal of battery power. Try turning it off unless you’re in need of the speed it offers.

Adjust the brightness of your screen
A too-bright screen is one of the major culprits of battery drainage. Dimming the screen is a simple way to conserve a lot of battery when you need it.

Disable push notifications
Enabling push notifications on your phone allows your phone to regularly send out signals to get new emails or other notifications. Turning that off will stop your phone from doing a lot of unnecessary work.

Know when to charge your battery
Find out what type of battery your phone uses. Lithium ion batteries can be charged anytime without affecting the long-term battery life. Nickel-based batteries, however, lose their power over time if you charge them too much, so make sure they’re totally drained first.

These are some great tricks that can keep your phone battery alive, when it’s on the verge of dying. For more tips, check out this Business Insider article

Cloud computing: what it really means

Cloud computing is a tricky thing. It’s something we all hear about, and think we should be familiar with, but the majority of us aren’t quite sure what it is. There are lots of conflicting views out there, which only add to the confusion.

What it is:
Cloud computing typically incorporates Hardware as a Service (HaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Within those capabilities, companies can offer flexible and scalable options for a number of services, including:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Anti-spam
  • Storage servers

Most providers agree that cloud computing always offers three things:

  1. On-demand services with monthly or set pricing.
  2. Flexibility to scale services as needed.
  3. The consumer only needs a computer and Internet access to use the service or program. 

Although the term can confuse people, cloud computing always uses the power of the Internet to provide products and services to consumers. Check out this InfoWorld article for additional information on the basics of cloud computing.

6 tips for creating more effective PowerPoint presentations

We’re all bound to work with PowerPoint to create presentations at one point or another in our academic or professional lives. Unfortunately, many of us are still unsure of how to best utilize PowerPoint to create a presentation that is both engaging and informative.

Most professional presenters that use PowerPoint are in agreement that the most important thing to remember when creating a presentation is not to overwhelm your audience. Slides flooded with facts often confuse and bore, not engage, your audience.  And even worse, text heavy slides are commonly read by the audience, and in the process, the speaker is ignored.

With this in mind, here are 6 suggestions to consider in order to create a more effective presentation:

  1. Telling a story is always an amazing way to present an idea. If you are a good storyteller, stick to a small number of slides to accentuate the story and let your speech do the talking.
  2. If you are presenting how-to’s or other instructional information, try creating simple slides that use a small number of words to make your point, and don’t be afraid to use a lot of slides.
  3. If you are presenting structured information, use bullet points, not sentences or paragraphs to help your viewers’ eyes scan through the slide and catch each point.
  4. If you can avoid it, don’t use Clip Art, animations or fancy slide transitions. When it comes down to it, they distract from your presentation and reduce the effectiveness of your message. 
  5. Focus on branding your business by putting your logo on every page and keeping your presentation consistent with your color palette.
  6. Practice first! It’s usually quite obvious to an audience if you haven’t practiced your presentation using your slides before getting on stage. Avoid the embarrassment and get your timing and speech dialed in before you present.

By using these tips for your next presentation you should end up with a well-balanced and effective presentation that will intrigue your viewers and help establish you as an accomplished presenter.

For more information on how to best utilize PowerPoint for presentations, check out this Inc. article.

3 great applications for keeping track of receipts

Creating expense reports can be a hassle – lots of receipts, struggling to remember what it is you bought, etc. Luckily, there are plenty of mobile applications out there that permit you to record expenses immediately and make expense reports easy.

iReceipt is a straightforward iPhone application that allows you to take pictures of receipts or record details quickly and easily. It then sends you an expense report via text message. The app is quite basic and doesn’t have a lot of the bells and whistles included in other apps.

Shoeboxed Receipt Tracker
Shoeboxed is a cool app for any individual who’s not interested in writing out all the details of their expenses. All you need to do is take a photo of your receipt with your phone and the app immediately enters the data: total, payment type and category. It then creates expense reports that you are able to send from your phone or export to Quicken or Quickbooks. 

This app is ideal for just about anybody as it works across several mobile platforms. It can automatically import expenses and receipts right from your credit cards, so you virtually have to do nothing but swipe your credit card. Like Shoeboxed, it is supported by Quickbooks and creates expense reports quickly and easily.

These are all fantastic options if you’re looking for a more streamlined approach to expense reports. There are plenty more options out there as well.

Check out this Mashable article for some applications that can work for anybody.

How to create a good password for every site

Creating a strong password might appear to be a rather straightforward concept. In fact, many websites even tell you when your password is “good” or “strong”. Unfortunately, many people still overlook the vital rules to creating a strong password.

  • Always make your passwords longer than six characters
  • Include a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and special characters
  • Don’t use a name or any word in the dictionary
  • Try using a phrase instead of a word
  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites

All of these rules are crucial for creating a good password but the last one is especially important. If someone gains access to one of your accounts, all of your accounts may become vulnerable if you use the same password on every site.

Multiple passwords can get tricky to keep track of but, luckily, there are tools for that. KeePassand Tiny Password are great tools for managing a database of passwords. It’s essential to keep in mind that the hassle of remembering several passwords is nothing compared to the hassle of having all of your accounts hacked.

For more password tips and pointers check out this Lifehacker article.