internet 101

Book Review: How to be a Geek Goddess

My co-worker (and Men’s Auxiliary Member), Ben, tipped me off a few weeks ago that there was a book being published by No Starch Press (one of his favorite resources for geek books) called How to be a Geek Goddess. I contacted the publisher and they were kind enough to put me in touch with the author, Christina Tynan-Wood (@xtyan), and send me a copy of the book.

I’m currently on vacation in the Coachella Valley (ah, sunshine feels good on my pale Minnesota skin!) and, while on the three-hour flight and lounging in the desert, have been perusing the book. My verdict? Excellent!

I’d highly recommend this book as a gift this holiday season, either to yourself or to a woman in your life who’s looking for a handy desk reference on all things geek. Tynan-Wood gives simple, but not condescending, instructions on everything from purchasing to outfitting your computer and everything that goes along with it.

In a very funny prologue, Tynan-Wood describes her husband as a “pompous ass” — a rather typical male tech-know-it-all. I laughed out loud at this, because I read it after I caught my husband paging through the book, rolling his eyes at her diagram of a mouse (right click, left click, scrollbar). Yeah. I married a pompous ass, too (and I mean that in a really loving way, honey!).

So, yes. The book contains things as simple as a diagram of a mouse, but you know what? Some people need that. And — despite Mr. Wilker’s eye-rolling — there’s no shame in that. Knowledge is power, and this book doles out tech knowledge from A to Z. What I like about the book is how comprehensive it is — even I, a self-described Geek Girl, learned a thing or two. Those who are just beginning to dip their toes into Interweb waters will learn even more, but won’t find it overwhelming.

While the book is structured in chapters, one certainly doesn’t need to read it cover-to-cover for it to make sense, or be a valuable resource. It would serve as a great desk reference for any woman aspiring to girly geekdom. Skip to Chapter 7 to learn how to set up a wireless network at your house, Chapter 9 for handy info on how to keep your kids safe online, or start at Chapter 1 if you need a guide on how to buy yourself a new computer. She really covers all the bases, and does so with good humor.

She also touches on what I think is an important point for women when it comes to embracing (or not embracing) technology. And this also came up in our Geek Out Room at the MIMA Summit this year. It’s relevance. Namely, that it’s okay to not be interested in technology for technology’s sake. For many women, technology is only interesting to the point that it’s relevant to one’s life. As in, how can this web application or gadget make my busy, insane life easier? Tynan-Wood does a great job illustrating how the technologies she describes can be applied to one’s life.

There are a few too many shoe-shopping references for my tastes, but I’m willing to admit that I’m a female anomaly in my dislike of shopping (shoe or otherwise) and her metaphors often do make sense. Software really can be considered an accessory in my world! All-in-all, the book is a fantastic tech bible for women: witty, informative and comprehensive.

The author was kind enough to agree to an interview with me; now that I’ve read the book, I’ll be contacting her. But before I do, do you have any questions you’d like me to ask? Either post to comments, use our Ask the Geeks form, or email me at meghan [at] geekgirlsguide [dot] com.

You can check out the Christina Tynan-Woods’ Geek Girlfriends blog here.

Facebook, It’s All Grown Up

If you’re reticent to try Linked In you might be curious about, but avoiding, Facebook.  Or maybe you’re on Facebook because some high school friend invited you, but you’re mostly letting people find you.  Rethink that.  Facebook isn’t just for your kids any more.  And if networking is your thing, there’s no better network out there.  While Linked In is, for the most part, a professional networking site, Facebook is that and then some. I really want people to stop poo-pooing social networks that work.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  With the job market being what it is and money being tight, these are desperate times.

I’ve recently started to really grasp the full power of Facebook.  In addition to the obvious features, including a friends/contacts list, photo sharing, links/content sharing, and messaging – instant and otherwise – the experience can be significantly enhanced through one or several easily installed Facebook ‘apps‘.  You can share and learn about music, books and films.  You can align with particular causes or charitable organizations, you can support local businesses and promote your business through ‘fan pages’. You can share data from your itunes for real time info about what you’re listening to or what you’re watching.  There are a number of very frivolous activities like giving ‘gifts’ and ‘drinks’ or ‘little green patches’.  The good news is, you have the option to ignore those things.  I am always sort of intrigued by the people that don’t ignore the silly.  But who am I?  Facebook also integrates with Twitter via a simple plugin application.  So, if you’re tweeting what you’re doing right now, it’ll automatically update your Facebook status.  This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s no denying that Facebook is feature and content rich. 

Why am I so convinced that Facebook can add value to your professional existence?  Well, Facebook has spent the last year really working on building it’s member base.  And, according to information published by Facebook, they have more than 130 million active users.  More than half of facebook users are out of college, with the fastest growing demographic being over 25 years old.  Simply put, you will NEVER have access to that kind of network in any other setting.  Why is Facebook so powerful, beyond the sheer volume of users?  Because it allows users to share snapshots of their personal and professional lives to a broad audience of contacts.  Your list of ‘friends’ shares moments, victories, stories, interests and events with you, sometimes even as they happen.  This kind of an interaction suggests a kind of investment in those relationships.  There is an implied intimacy that people take pretty seriously.

We’re living through a period in history like no other.  Information is flying at us and its rare that we get an opportunity to stop and really pay attention to it.  Facebook gives us information on people we care about, have cared about or should care about, in small, digestable nuggets.  It frames it up in a way that makes it palatable.  Its that investment, whether personally or professionally (and let’s face it, these days, what’s the difference?) that makes Facebook so important. When we care about a person, even just enough to take in a morsel of information about them, we are more likely to want, and even invest in, their success.  We network because we want to, and with our network readily available to us, we network because its easy. 

People need to stop dismissing social networks as being fluff, or pointless, or time wasters.  They exist because we don’t have time.  They exist because we need access to the people in our networks, our communities.  They exist because we actually do want to be more connected.  Do I think everyone needs to have a profile on every social network?  No.  Am I selling Facebook for any reason other than the occasional usefulness of information?  No.  But I am suggesting that people who tap into a social network, especially one as huge and well established as Facebook, have an advantage.  If you are looking for a job, a deal on a car, a good insurance agent, a wedding dress, a babysitter – where better to look than right inside your own community.  And your odds are actually better online, because the community is broader.  Sure, you still have to apply the same common sense filters you would in any situation, but chances are you’ll get more useful information.

People have asked me why I like Facebook and I generally answer “. . .because I’m a crappy friend.”  I’m mostly kidding.  But there’s a grain of truth there.  With Facebook I can peek in on my friends lives and see pictures of their kids, find out about what books they’re reading, see what causes they are feeling passionately about, and comment on their latest flat tire or cold symptom.  I can do all of that in just a few seconds.  It keeps me current.  It makes me a better friend.  And, because my personal life bleeds heavily into my professional life, when I contribute content to this whole experience, I am really adding more color to my own story.  In this wildly connected universe we live in, we’re investing in our own brands –that brand called YOU.  If you’re authentic in voice and contribution, your community responds favorably.  They help you.  Professionally and personally.  It’s really what makes the web so useful and compelling.  The connections.  That’s why Facebook is worth your time.


How do I love thee, Amazon?

As we head into the holiday shopping season, we’ll all acquire horror stories about crappy retailers or web sites. In an effort to spread some pre-holiday cheer, I give you three reasons I love

$1 Buys My Love

1. Two weeks ago, I pre-ordered a copy of Kung-Fu Panda as a Christmas gift for my daughter (she can’t read yet so I’m not worried about spoiling the surprise) and this week, we received it. No, that’s not why I love Amazon. It’s their job to mail me the stuff I pay for.

I love them because in addition to sending me my order, they sent me an email telling me that the price had been lowered by $1 since I placed my order, and they were crediting my account.

In high school, when I worked at a Target store, they had a price adjustment policy: if you bought something and it went on sale within a certain number of days, you could bring in your receipt and get an adjustment. I was always stunned that people were paying that much attention. I wondered if they monitored every receipt, or if they just happened to notice that something had gone on sale. Either way, what a pain in the ass to have to return to the store with your receipt to get your money.

I love that Amazon took the initiative to let me know the price had gone down. Frankly, I hadn’t noticed, I would never have noticed and they could have easily kept my dollar. Presumably, a lot of people pre-ordered this movie which adds up to a lot of dollars that Amazon could have held on to. Instead, they used technology for good, gave me my dollar back and they won my heart. Yes, my love is for sale at the low price of $1.

Universal Wish List Button

2. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wanted to create an online wish list for baby gifts. At the time, there was no one place where I could create one central wish list for everything I wanted. Some stuff was on Amazon/Babies R Us (which were, at the time, combined. Babies R Us has since gone off and created their own separate site), and other stuff I wanted was on natural parenting web sites (like, cloth diapers and the like). I was forced to create separate lists on separate sites which was a pain for everyone involved. Same thing when I got married.

Enter Amazon’s new Universal Wish List button.

Oh, yeah. Now you can add anything from any web site to your Amazon wish list. Christmas this year is gonna ROCK!

MP3 Daily Deal

3. I used to buy most of my music from iTunes. The DRM drove me crazy (especially since I have two old laptops that are still “authorized” to play my iTunes library even though I don’t have them anymore. Grr!). Not only has Amazon started selling DRM-free MP3s, they have an MP3 Daily Deal: a bargain-priced album that changes daily. My husband bought me the new Keane album the day it was released for $2.99. Today’s album is a new release by Taylor Swift for $3.99. If you’re as excited as I am about expanding your music collection without spending tons of cash, you can check the web site daily, or follow Amazon’s MP3 Daily Deal on Twitter (though for me, the tweets haven’t always arrived on time — I can’t tell yet if the problem is my Twitter app or them. I also can’t tell if this is an official Amazon Twitter account. I think not.).

And that concludes the three reasons I love Amazon. My bonus fourth reason: I don’t have to deal with parking.

So, who do you love?

Geek Chic of the Week:

Inspired by Christina Tynan-Wood’s post on Quicken Online, I made this week’s Geek Chic topic.

So, many of us already use our banks’ online interface(s) to transfer money, pay bills and check balances. But, if you want to centralize all your financial data your only option used to be purchasing Quicken (or maybe Microsoft Money or something) and maintaining it on your own. If, like me, you use a Mac, it was often a pain (or in some cases impossible) to get information automatically imported from your bank. Which meant time-consuming tasks like exporting and importing files or — horror of horrors — manually entering and categorizing transactions. Not to mention that some of the Quicken reports and interface screens, while powerful, were overwhelming and rather complicated. And sometimes overkill for the everyday person to just keep track of how much money is coming and going, and where it’s going.

I first heard about from my husband in September 2007 (of course a member of the Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary!) when they won a TechCrunch 40 award. I signed up out of curiosity and was pretty impressed, but the usefulness was somewhat limited. Since it only tracked cash accounts, I couldn’t see my whole financial picture. But, since then, they’ve added the ability to track investment accounts (not so fun these days watching the line go down, down, down), loans and 401(k) accounts as well as custom categories for tracking spending.

How it Works

You enter usernames and passwords for your bank accounts. Mint establishes a secure connection with your financial institution(s) and displays that information to you on their site. You cannot actually access the accounts from Mint, you can only see data like transactions and balances.

Mint also displays trending reports like a pie chart that shows which categories you’re spending the most in, or little sidebar facts like your most frequented merchant (mine is the grocery store near our house), and a comparison tool that allows you to see how much you spend in a particular category vs. others in your city or nationwide (I spend more on groceries than other people in Minneapolis. Hmmm.). You can also be alerted about bills due, or low account balances.


Like anything online, there is a risk. But the site has security cred, and it’s worth noting that you can’t actually do anything with your money on Mint. So, if someone stole your computer and logged into your Mint account they would see how much money you have but they wouldn’t be able to move any money, view any passwords or change any of your data with the bank. And Mint doesn’t see or store your password.

A Quick Tour

The Overview page (which you see when you first log in) displays:

  • a list of all your accounts (Cash, Credit Cards, Loans, Investments)
  • alerts (like, “In the past 30 days, you spent on Dentist. Usually you spend.” or “Your deposit to your US Bank account is now available.”)
  • portfolio movers and shakers (guess what? They’re all down!)
  • budget (where it tracks what you’ve spent this month against what you’ve budgeted — to start, the site sets some ballpark numbers based on your past spending)

The Transactions page is a detailed list of all transactions. You can filter by account, search based on keywords and do one-by-one or mass category edits (the site assumes categories based on the merchant and is pretty good about getting it right but sometimes needs to be corrected). You can also set up rules for transactions to prevent Mint from mis-categorizing in the future or to put something in a custom category you’ve created.

Investments keeps track of 401(k) and other investment accounts and gives you some handy reports on Performance, Allocation and Comparisons (where you can see how you’re doing against the S&P 500, Dow Jones or NASDAQ.

Ways to Save is, I think, how Mint earns their keep (since the service itself is free). They look at your accounts and then allow companies like E*Trade to pimp out their services. It might say, “Your US Bank account earns $0/yrAt 0% APY. Switch to the E*Trade Max-Rate Checking Account and $443/yrAt 2.9% APY. Save up to $443 per year, sign up now!” Not a bad idea, but so far I’ve not taken advantage of any of their offers. I rarely even look at the page.

Notifications allows you to hear from Mint as often as you like about your account. There are many communication options (like low balance, bill due, unusual spending, over budget, bank fees, large purchases or deposits), and they can be sent via email or text message. I personally get a summary email once a week and instant emails if my accounts dip below a certain threshold.

Why Do I Love It?

First, it’s useful. It fills the need I had for easy, fast financial monitoring. Not management, per se — I still have to use the bank to move money or pay bills — but a simple easy way to know what’s coming in and what’s going out.

Second, it’s easy to use. There’s nothing I love more than something that’s so easy it doesn’t need a manual. The Mint interface is incredibly intuitive and you’ll feel like a power user quickly.

Third, it’s gorgeous. That’s right. I said it: looks matter. It feels good to use a site that looks good. I actually get a pleasant feeling from using Mint. I don’t know if it’s that minty fresh color palette, or the AJAX-y goodness of the interface, or the fact that now that I’m a mom and in my 30s I’m not blowing my money at bars and then freaking out when the rent comes due. Whatever the reason, I like it!

Want More?

Check out this great comparison of Quicken Online vs. Mint, or this overview of who’s using Mint (only 28% women. C’mon, ladies!).

And, I will repeat my usual mantra: give it a try. If you hate it, you can always delete your account.

Thanks For Sharing

Geeky reader Ann from Chicago wondered, “How can I post one of your articles on Facebook? I really liked Cindy’s thoughts on women in the creative department and want to share it with my homies…”

Ann’s question alerted us to the fact that we didn’t have an easy way to share our blog posts directly from our site. LAME! So, we recently rectified that situation with the addition of Share This at the bottom of each of our blog posts. Now, if you want to share our awesome wisdom and knowledge (or our guest geeks’ awesome wisdom and knowledge) you can use ShareThis to post a link to your account on just about any social networking site. Look for it right below each post, above the comments.

If you select Facebook from ShareThis, it will take you to a page (on Facebook) where you can either send the link to a list of your Facebook contacts, or post it to your profile. If you post it to your profile, your Facebook friends will see this as part of your feed (the summary of your activity on Facebook that others see when they log in).

As for the specific question, you can also share links directly from Facebook. From your profile page, hit “Share Link” and paste in the URL you’d like to share. Facebook gives you the option of including an image (it allows you to choose from the photos on the page you are sharing) and a comment.

Geek Chic of the Week: Twitter

Sorry this post is so delayed, but I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy on Tuesday, October 7 and he is keeping me very busy! Anyway, I promised in an earlier post from the MIMA Summit that I’d talk about Twitter. Coincidentally, that same week we also got an email from geeky reader Maile in Los Angeles wondering: “Why should I use Twitter?”

Let’s start with Maile’s question: what I think she’s really asking is “Is Twitter relevant to me or is it some piece of crap I should ignore?” I can’t really answer that, but I can tell you everything I know about it and you can decide if it’s relevant to you, or if you want to file it under “stuff those crazy kids are doing on the interweb.”

What is it?

If I had to boil Twitter down into a brief description, it would be that it allows you to give others a brief snapshot into what you are doing, thinking, or looking at right now. It’s faster, easier and more portable than a blog.

Here’s what Twitter says it is: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

Not to keep relying on Common Craft, but damn. Those guys make some awesome videos. Here’s how they explain Twitter:

Here’s how I use it:

I first heard about Twitter in March 2007, on an episode of Future Tense on MPR. It sounded interesting, and my personal blog was in a state of utter neglect; it was time to close the coffin and bury it. So, using Twitter as a sort of “micro-blog” was intriguiging to me. I liked the idea of keeping people updated on what I was up to without the commitment of a full blog post. I posted about Twitter on a Clockwork blog (speaking of neglected…) and a few co-workers signed up. Then I slowly started gathering non-work “Followers.” Some are friends who signed up for Twitter as it started gaining in popularity. Others are people I have never met and I wonder why they care what I’m up to. But, for some reason, they do.

When I signed up for Facebook last year, I saw that there was an app that would sync up your Twitter updates and your Facebook status. How efficient! So, now if I “tweet” something, it also shows up as my Facebook status. Handy.

So, what does one talk about on Twitter? Whatever you want to. In the past week, I’ve tweeted about: a vole in my basement (eek!), my grandma’s death, the presidential debate, the fact that the new macbooks all have glossy screens (boo!), the New Kids on the Block reunion concert and my newborn.

Here’s how you can use it:

1. Sign up at
You can enter your name (for a long time I had just Meghan, but recently added my last name as well. You can enter in whatever you are comfortable with). You’ll also select a username, which other people will see and will use to send messages to you (see #4 below). Mine is irishgirl. Click the “protect my updates” checkbox if you only want people you approve to be able to see your updates.

2. Type in what you are doing in 140 characters or less.

3. Find some people that you want to follow.
If you don’t know anyone on Twitter yet, you can follow me. Or Nancy. When you follow someone on Twitter, they are notified, and may start following you back. If any unsavory characters start following you, you can click the link that says “block” and they won’t be able to see your updates. The most common type of Twitter unsavory is the spammer (yes, they are everywhere). When you visit their Twitter page, you’ll know they’re a spammer because they’ll be following thousands of people and will only have a handful of people following them back. Don’t feel bad about blocking these people.

4. Talk “at” people and send them private messages.
On Twitter, my username is “irishgirl” and Nancy’s is “nylons.” So, if I want to tweet something to Nancy, but I want everyone else to see it, too, I would type it as follows: @nylons let’s have lunch next week. If I want to tweet something to her and I don’t want anyone else to see it, I would type it as D nylons let’s have lunch next week. This sends her a “direct message” that no one else can see.

Ready to get even funkier? I knew it!

5. You can also get Twitter updates on your mobile phone (as text messages), on your desktop, or on your browser.
Frankly, I don’t care enough about what people are doing to want to get a text message about it, but I do use Twitterific on my laptop. Whenever there is a new tweet from someone that I follow, a cute little bird icon on my desktop turns blue. Whenever I feel like it, I can check in on the statuses of those I’m following or post a quick tweet myself. I prefer this to visiting the Twitter web site, and I don’t even mind the little ads that show up. I also use Hahlo on my iPhone for posting mobile tweets and checking in on what others are doing. There are a bajillion other Twitter apps listed on the fan wiki page here.

6. Use Twitter search to see tweets on particular topics.
Want to see what the Twitterverse is saying about Palin? Check Twitter search and type in Palin. Voila!

7. Categorize your tweets with hashtags.
Uh, what? Yeah, this one is super funky. But, it can also be super cool. Here’s an example: I attended the MIMA Summit on October 1. Inside the program, they printed the MIMA Summit hashtag: #mimasum08. Some of the breakout sessions even had their own custom hashtag. This allowed attendees to see — in real-time — what people were saying about the Summit.

8. Post photos from your phone using Twitpic.

Wrapping it up

So, back to Maile’s question: “Why should I use Twitter?” Crap. I still don’t know the answer.

But — just like my earlier posts about RSS — I’d encourage you to try it and see if you like it or not. The only problem I’ve had with it so far is people who overtweet. Like, a million meaningless tweets a million times a day. But, that problem is easily solved by “unfollowing” them.

So give it a try. And as always, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!

More Linked In

After that last post I had a couple of relatively low-tech readers comment on how they have no use for a social network like Linked In.  I thought this topic deserved another post.  A few people in my immediate network have recently been laid off.  Its a tough time, and tough times require tough measures.  Sometimes that means operating outside of your comfort zone to, possibly, touch more people in your network.  That’s where a tool like Linked In deserves your time and attention.  You don’t have to be comfortable with tech to recognize the value in a tool like Linked In.  For instance:

  • it makes your network entirely portable.  If you get laid off tomorrow, you simply walk away from your work computer and log into your network at home. 
  • it automates the maintenance of your contacts – when they update their information, your information about them is automatically updated. 
  • real networking happens with this network – you can tap into your contacts for introductions to their contacts and build your personal network on the fly. 
  • Web based networking has a much broader, more immediate reach.  You can decide to hunt for a job tonight, after the news, in your pajamas, while sipping a glass of warm milk, versus waiting until tomorrow and pinging your contacts one person at a time via email or phone.
  • you have instant, one-click access to entire professional histories and snapshots of professional organizations you may never have thought of as relevant in your own search.
  • you have an instant link to your contacts websites, to start doing your homework to better position yourself for the next opportunity.
  • you have the ability to take advantage of the six degrees of separation between you and anyone you might need to meet.
  • it gives you access to job postings in your network right when they become news, sometimes even before the general public.

It’s not hard to figure out how to navigate within Linked In.  And it’s really easy to start tapping into the value of it.  You might think you have all you need with email and your cell phone.  But you’re wrong.  Get past your social network phobia and connect with people.  Because that’s the real value of the web.  Connections.

Geek Chic of the Week: Pizza

The last three weeks have been heavy duty, what with all that RSS talk. This week, I figured we’d keep it short and sweet. And it’s Friday so we might as well talk about pizza.

Since I’m married to a guy with an intolerance for all things lactose, I rarely order pizza. So, I had no idea of the amazing advances in online pizza technology until Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary member Eric Hanson sent me an email (with screenshots, even!) raving about a recent online ordering experience.

This was followed up with a link to a CNN article (courtesy of another Men’s Auxiliary member, Justin Dessonville) that discussed the whole online pizza revolution and the insane amounts of money being made by pizza chains online. Who knew?!

Let’s start with Eric’s experience at Domino’s. Gone are the days of picking up the phone, getting a crazed-sounding teenager on the phone asking if you can hold, placing your order (all the while fearing that the distracted kid isn’t writing it down correctly) and then hoping that it shows up sometime before you go to bed.