Wednesday, September 30, 2015

(How to tell) Is Your Kid Sick or Just Faking It?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Your child may not look sick to you. So before you heat up the chicken soup and call your boss, you might want to consider the possibility that something other than a virus has invaded your home.
Yes, we're talking deception. Faking it. Playing hooky, a la Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Just as Matthew Broderick, the lead actor in the hit 1986 movie, decided to give himself a glorious day off (including a spin around Chicago in a "borrowed" Ferrari), there is the possibility your child is faking it -- for attention, the thrill of it, or a zillion other reasons.
Up to 10% of kids try to dupe their parents. Sometimes, the guise is relatively innocent; but sometimes it masks serious problems, such as anxietydepression, or their wish to avoid a bully.
Given the anxiety many parents feel when their children are sick -- how can you figure out which symptoms are real and which aren’t? WebMD asked three experts who've seen their share of faking -- a pediatrician, an adolescent psychologist, and a former school nurse -- to clue us in.
1.) If there’s any doubt -- especially when potentially serious illnesses are a possibility -- call your child’s pediatrician.
2.) Look for Telltale 'Faking' Signs -- Be suspicious, if your teen is glued to a TV-watching marathon, wide awake, it could be a sign that he’s faking it.
3.) Get to the Bottom of the Problem -- If There Is One. Once you've decided it's an act, try to figure out why. Although some kids are just feeling lazy, others may have a sense of entitlement.
But some kids who fake it have more serious underlying problems, not just laziness or mischief. A common reason for faking is being bullied.
This is a case of psychological problems leading to physical symptoms, says Barry Anton, PhD, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist at Rainier Behavioral Health and professor of psychology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. Faking becomes "malingering," he says. "Malingering is defined as assuming a sick role to avoid something."
The child in this case may not even be aware that the psychological problems led to the physical ones, Anton says. "The pain is real, the cause is psychological," he says.
These scenarios are more common, he says, in younger children who haven't yet learned to verbalize their emotional feelings. "As they get older, they have better coping skills," he says, and are better able to talk about their anxiety and other problems instead of having it manifest in pain.
4.) Decide if You're Contributing to the Problem. Children from "chaotic and disorganized families" in which the parents themselves may complain about physical symptoms due to psychological stresses are also more likely to fake it. They are modeling their behavior after their parents' behavior.
If this sounds like your house, consider getting professional help -- for you and your child -- to learn to deal with the anxiety anddepression and other problems that may be leading to the physical symptoms.

How to make Homemade Firecrackers

Firecrackers are extremely easy and inexpensive to make yourself. You may want to make your own firecrackers because you are interested in learning how to make simple fireworks or it may be you are unable to obtain fireworks where you live. Fortunately, the materials needed to make your own firecrackers are very common.

Homemade Firecracker Materials

  • tape (e.g., transparent tape)
  • toy gun caps (either the tape or the rings) or black powder
  • Toy gun caps are nice because the powder used in them is easy to work with. Here's how to get the powder out of the caps:
    1. Gently insert a pin or needle through the back of a cap through to the front. 
    2. Remove the pin and re-insert it from the front, where you made the hole. Pry the powder out of the cap, tapping it onto a sheet or paper or plate or other working surface. 
    3. Carefully work the pin around the edge of the cap to collect all of the powder. There is a very slight chance of popping the cap, so be gentle and work slowly.
  • How much powder you need depends on the size of firecracker you plan to make. One ring of caps is more than sufficient to create a loud bang, but you really only need powder from about 3 caps for each firecracker. For the sake of safety, it's best to make one firecracker at a time (you don't need a big pile of powder).
  • Now let's assemble the firecracker.
  • One you have all of the materials necessary to make firecrackers, you are ready to start putting the firecrackers together.
    1. Take a piece of tape about 2" long and pick up the gunpowder on the sticky side of the tape. Evenly coat the tape until you either run out of gunpowder or else run out of stickiness. 
    2. Place the fuse (about 2 inches long) so that it sticks halfway down the tape. The fuse does not need to stick to the tape.
    3. Roll the tape around the fuse. Take another piece of tape and tightly wrap your firecracker. Be sure to cover the bottom of the firecracker or else the opening will give you a small rocket rather than a popping firecracker.
    4. Alternatively, you could just fold a 2-inch strip of paper in half lengthwise, pour the gunpowder into the fold of the paper, and wrap the paper around the fuse. The paper firecracker could be secured with any kind of tape.
  • Now that you have a homemade firecracker, you need to light it! This is basically the same as lighting any other firecracker. Make sure you light it on a firesafe surface, far from people or pets. Don't hold the firecracker in your hand when you light it. Firecrackers that you buy contain measured quantities of gunpowder. You can estimate the amount of gunpowder in your firecracker based on how many caps you used.
  • You won't necessarily get a louder 'bang' using more gunpowder, but you will increase the potential risk of injury, so don't go crazy making big firecrackers. Have fun!

Planting a Butterfly garden

Use these to attract butterflies to your garden:

Purple coneflower

Bee balm (Monarda)
Butterfly bush

Butterflies need water and places to relax. Keep some type of wet area for butterflies to drink from.

Beautiful Butterfly1 Beautiful Butterflies

Planting a hedgerow, erecting a fence, or installing trees to stop the wind from entering your garden site may be necessary.
Beautiful Butterfly2 Beautiful Butterflies

Place flat stones in butterfly gardens to add beauty and diversity to the landscape.

Beautiful Butterfly3 Beautiful Butterflies
Butterflies exhibit polymorphism, mimicry and aposematism. Some, like the Monarch, will migrate over long distances. Some butterflies have evolved symbiotic and parasitic relationships with social insects such as ants. Butterflies are important economically as agents of pollination. The caterpillars of some butterflies eat harmful insects. A few species are pests because in their larval stages they can damage domestic crops or trees. Culturally, butterflies are a popular motif in the visual and literary arts.
Beautiful Butterfly4 Beautiful Butterflies
Butterflies also enjoy warming themselves on a sunny rock or other flat surface.
Beautiful Butterfly5 Beautiful Butterflies

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Planting a Hummingbird Garden

Plant these to attract hummingbirds:

Bee balm
Butterfly bushes
Morning glories

You can use trees, vines, shrubs, and flowers, both perennials and annuals – these suggestions are just the beginning of the list. Other ideas include honeysuckle, cypress vine, coral bells, and impatiens.

From Mama Knows: They need eight times their body weight in water on daily basis, so a small garden fountain with a small spray nozzle of a dripper near your flower bed will attract them.

They are also very territorial – while the male establishes the territory first, females will chase intruders away from their plants or feeders. Remembering that, you should plants your hummingbird-attracting plants in various parts of your garden to allow the birds their own spaces.

You can fill a feeder with simple sugar syrup – but never use honey, brown sugar, artificial sweeteners or food colourings. To mix your own syrup, mix one-quarter to one-third cup of granulated sugar with one cup of water. Bring to boil and let cool before filling your feeder. The more feeders you provide, the happier hummingbirds will be!

Berylline Hummingbird

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Blue Throated Hummingbird

Board Billed Hummingbird

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Buff Bellied Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird

How to start a vegetable garden

bush tomato plant

Starting a vegetable garden at home is an easy way to save money -- that $2 tomato plant can easily provide you with 10 pounds of fruit over the course of a season.

Planting a garden with vegetables also gives you the pleasure of savoring a delicious, sun-warmed tomato fresh from the garden. In almost every case, the flavor and texture of varieties you can grow far exceed the best grocery store produce.

Plus, growing vegetables can be fun. It's a great way to spend time with children or have a place to get away and spend time outdoors in the sun.

Keep in mind when figuring out what to plant in a garden with vegetables that you don't need a large space to begin. If you choose to grow in containers, you don't even need a yard -- a deck or balcony may provide plenty of space.

There are three basic requirements for success:

1. Full sun. Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun. If they don't get enough light, they won't bear as much and they'll be more susceptible to attack from insects or diseases.

If you don't have a spot in full sun to plant a garden with vegetables, you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. And if you're in a hot-summer climate, cool-season varieties such as peas may do better in part shade.

2. Plenty of water. Because most vegetables aren't very drought tolerant, you'll need to give them a drink during dry spells. When thinking about how to plan a vegetable garden, remember: The closer your garden is to a source of water, the easier it will be for you.

3. Good soil. As with any kind of garden, success usually starts with the soil. Most vegetables do best in moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter (such as compost or peat moss).

Allow at least 18 inches between your rows so you have plenty of room to work between them. And as you sketch out your plan, place taller vegetables at the north side of the garden. This includes naturally tall plants -- like tomatoes -- and plants that can be grown on vertical supports -- including snap peas, cucumbers, and pole beans.

Check drainage by soaking the soil with a hose, waiting a day, then digging up a handful of soil. Squeeze the soil hard. If water streams out, you'll probably want to add compost or organic matter to improve the drainage.

Next, open your hand.

If the soil hasn't formed a ball, or if the ball falls apart at the slightest touch, the soil is probably too sandy. (Add organic matter to improve sandy soil.)

If the ball holds together even if you poke it fairly hard, you have too much clay in your soil. (Organic matter improves clay soil, too.)

But if the ball breaks into crumbs when you poke it -- like a chocolate cake -- rejoice! Your soil is ideal.

If your soil doesn't drain well, your best bet will probably be to install raised beds.

Build raised beds on existing lawn by lining the bottom of frames with several layers of newspaper, then filling with soil. That way, you don't have to dig!

Most vegetables like a steady supply of moisture, but not so much that they are standing in water. About an inch of water per week is usually sufficient, provided by you if Mother Nature fails to come through. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. For in-ground crops, that may mean watering once or twice a week; raised beds drain faster and may require watering every other day.

Weeds compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients, so it's important to keep them to a minimum. Use a hoe or hand fork to lightly stir (cultivate) the top inch of soil regularly to discourage weed seedlings. A mulch of clean straw, compost, or plastic can keep weeds at bay around larger plants like tomatoes.

Fertilizing your crops is critical to maximizing yields. Organic gardeners often find that digging in high quality compost at planting time is all their vegetables need. Most gardeners, however, should consider applying a packaged vegetable fertilizer, following the directions on the box or bag. Don't apply more than recommended as this can actually decrease yield.

By using vining crops like pole beans and snap peas when planting a garden with vegetables, you can make use of vertical space in the garden and boost yield per square foot.

Pests and disease are ongoing problems for most vegetable gardeners. Although specific problems may require special solutions, there are some general principles you can follow.

Deer and rabbits. Use fences to deter rabbits. Make sure the bottom of the fence extends about 6 inches under the soil to stop rabbits from digging underneath it. The fence needs to stand at least 8 feet above the ground to prevent deer from jumping over it.

Spring insects. Row covers, which are lightweight sheets of translucent plastic, protect young crops against many common insects. Row covers are also helpful to prevent damage from light frosts.

Fungal diseases. Reduce fungal diseases by watering the soil, not the leaves of plants. If you use a sprinkler, do it early in the day so the leaves will dry by nightfall.

If a plant falls prey to a disease, remove it promptly and throw it in the trash; don't add sick plants to your compost pile.

Grow varieties that are listed as disease resistant. Garden catalogs and websites should tell you which varieties offer the most protection.

Make it a habit to change the location of your plants each year. In other words, if you grew tomatoes in the northwest corner of your garden this year, put them in the northeast corner next year. This reduces the chances that pests will gain a permanent foothold in your garden.

Summer insects. Pick larger insects and caterpillars by hand. Once you get over the "yuck!" factor, this is a safe and effective way to deal with limited infestations.

Insect Control

Believe it or not, aluminum foil can successfully keep hungry insects and slugs away from your vegetable garden. Simply mix strips of aluminum foil in with your garden mulch to deter bugs and slugs. In addition, since foil is reflective, it will shine light back up onto your plants, giving them a solar boost.

Mothballs are another handy insect control device for the garden. You've probably heard of using mothballs in the closet to protect your sweaters, but you can also use them to kill bugs on potted plants. Simply place the plant in a clear plastic bag (i.e. a cleaning bag), add a few mothballs, and seal the bag for a week. When you take the plant out, it will be bug-free (and moths will stay away for a while too). Animals also hate the smell of mothballs, so you can toss a few into your garden and flowerbed as well, to keep away cats, dogs, and rodents.

Did you know onions are a natural pesticide as well? Here's an easy-to-make concoction that will repel insects (and animals too) in your flowers and vegetables: Use a blender to puree 4 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, and one quart of water. Put the mixture aside and then dilute 2 tablespoons of soap flakes in 2 gallons of water. Pour all the contents in your blender, stir it up, and this gives you an eco-friendly bug spray to use on your plants.

Black pepper is another home remedy that works great for pest control in the garden. If insects are harassing your flowers, plants, and vegetables, simply mix pepper with flour and sprinkle it around your plants. Bugs won't be so eager to munch.

(How to) Save water/lower your water bill

Inside Your Home

1. Check for Leaks

This is the most obvious thing you can do, but there may be some leaks you’re missing. Check the level on your water meter and then again after two hours without water use. The level should be the same, and if it isn’t, you have a leak!

2. Rinse Your Razor in the Sink

Just like you shouldn’t leave the tap on while brushing your teeth, turn it off while shaving, too. Instead, fill the sink with a few inches of warm water to rinse your razor.

3. Switch Your Appliances

If you’re on the market for new appliances, look for energy star appliances or water saving ones. Not only do they reduce the amount of water you use by 35-50% per use, but they also save on energy.

4. Don’t Pre-Wash Dishes

Most dishwasher don’t require a pre-rinse, and that saves 20 gallons of water right there! Instead scrape plates off into the trash or start a compost you can use in the garden. This will also save you from using the garbage disposal which, by design, requires a lot of water to use. If you don’t have a dishwasher, fill one side of the sink or a bucket with warm soapy water to wash and the other side or the sink with clear water to rinse. This, too, will cut down your water consumption.

5. Insulate Hot Water Pipes

Believe it or not, this directly cuts down on water use and can be done inexpensively with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. It will keep hot water hot so you spend less time waiting for it and less water getting to it.

6. Install Water-Saving Appliances

Replacing your faucets and shower heads with low-flow faucet aerators and water-saving shower heads is easier than it sounds. You can easily install them yourself and they’re inexpensive. They make a huge difference in your water use without sacrificing water pressure.

Outside Your Home

1. Use Native Plants

If you’re re-landscaping or just looking for what to plant this year, consider using plants native to your area or drought-resistant plants. Not only will they be more accustomed to your climate and area’s diseases, but they’ll also use less water. Plant on slopes to reduce erosion and runoff, and group plants by watering needs to maximize efficiency.

2. Mulch

Place mulch around plants and trees. The organic matter helps to retain moisture and prevent evaporation so you don’t have to water as frequently.

3. Check Your Sprinklers

Make sure that your sprinklers are aimed at your lawn and plants instead of paved areas. Also, check that they’re all functioning properly and not just flooding one portion of your yard. Avoid watering when the suns up or when it’s windy to reduce evaporation and water loss.

4. Only Water When You Need To

Your lawn doesn’t need as much water as you think. To test if it’s thirsty, step on or press down on the grass. If it springs back up, you’re good. If it remains flat, go ahead and water it. On average, your lawn only needs one inch of water per week. Keep blades at three inches, too. This will help your lawn naturally retain more water.

5. Lawn Alternatives

If you’re fed up with your lawn, think about replacing it with our low-maintenance lawn alternatives or low-water turf. If that’s not your style, but you do want to save water, consider letting your lawn go dormant for the summer. Just water it once a month and once cooler weather rolls in, water regularly. It will spring right back up.

6. Water By Hand

If you’re committed to a green lawn but not the price, water by hand. Manually watering your lawn and plants lets you adjust how much water goes where and prevents over-watering. Plus, it will save you 33% of the water you’d normally use!

7. Drip Irrigation

Not only does drip irrigation save water, but it’s also the best way to water planters, shrub beds, gardens and trees. It applies water directly to the root where it’s needed and reduces use and evaporation.

8. Check Your Hoses

First, when you use a hose, make sure it has a nozzle that will shut off when you’re not using it. Secondly, turn it off when you’re washing your car—use soap and water in a bucket to wash instead. Lastly, check for leaks! We keep hoses rolled up most of the time and rubber can crack.

Low-Maintenance Lawn Alternatives

1. Allergy-free Flora

If you keep your allergy pills next to the lawn mower, you may want to consider replacing your lawn with sneeze-less plants. Pollen free plants such as purple sage, spurge, day lilies, bamboo and mint all look beautiful and need minimal weeding and watering.

2. Ground Covers

There are a variety of creeping perennials and clover that almost look like a lawn, but requires much less care and water. Consider creeping thyme sprinkled in with a walkable gravel—the colorful blooms are delightful and the thyme releases a fragrance when walked on.

3. Turf Grass

Don’t recoil just because we said grass. If you can’t kick the green, replace your time-sucking lawn with turf grass. It needs a quarter of the water, rarely needs mowing and doesn’t need any fertilizer or pesticides. It’s an environmentalist’s kind of lawn.

4. Extend Your Patio

Either extend your patio or install a patio instead of a lawn. Make your backyard a retreat with a fireplace or water feature, covered patio or anything you can dream up. The concrete or wood patio definitely doesn’t need watering and can be brightened up with potted, drought-tolerant plants or creeping vines.

5. Go Native

Plant your lawn with the flora that’s indigenous to your area. It’s already adapted to the climate so it hardly needs any attention at all.

6. Gravel

Foot-friendly gravel like pea gravel is virtually maintenance-free. Green it up with potted plants, low shrubs along the border or succulents.

7. Permeable Paving

If you’re looking for a more natural look than poured concrete walkways, look into permeable pavements. They look like they’ve always been there and also allow water to trickle back into the soil.

8. Synthetic Grass

Slightly on the more expensive side, synthetic grass has all the pros of a lawn without any of the bother. The best part? You can use it to put in a putting green.

9. Simply Succulent

Create a tapestry of succulents in colorful shapes and sizes. You’d be surprised how beautiful these drought-resistant plants can be and won’t look anything like a bleak desert landscape. Since they were born and raised on the lonely range, they hardly need any attention at all.

No More Mowing: 10 Grass-Free Alternatives to a Traditional Lawn

Replace your lawn with hardscape

Some materials to consider are brick without mortar, flagstone, patio blocks and decomposed granite.

Brick without mortar makes an attractive surface that is easy to walk on or operate anything from a tricycle to a wheelchair. Border the brick walk with treated wood 2-by-4s for straight stretches and flexible steel or cedar pieces for curves. You want the brick to be tight together so the width should be divisible by the width of the brick surface. A good width is 36 inches if the brick is 3 inches on the side to form your surface.

Patio blocks can be used the same way as bricks. The blocks are easier to lay than bricks, but the finished surface isn't as attractive.

If you use flagstone or slate materials for the path or patio, the surface will not be as level as the brick or patio blocks, and there necessarily will be space between the rocks. The overall look also will be less formal.

Decomposed granite should be applied to a caliche base about 2 inches deep and well compacted.

Patio surfaces can be higher than the surrounding beds and or lawn, but for ease of mowing, the paths or sidewalks seem to work best if they are level with the lawn. To accomplish that, the route of the path will have to be dug out to accommodate the 3 inches of sand or 2 inches of caliche plus the depth of the surface material.

Use a garden hose and spray paint to mark the area to be dug out, including the 2-by-4 border.

Sand provides a stable base and is easy to level. Decomposed granite does better on a base of 2 inches of caliche fill.

The brick, patio block and flagstone do not need to be perfectly level, but you can use a level to check the path as you proceed or even use a straight piece of 2-by-4 that, when laid on your border, will show you if the path is relatively level. The brick and other material should just touch the bridging 2-by-4.

Drainage off the path should not be a problem if it is level or slightly higher than the surrounding beds or lawn. You can allow for a small slope (1 inch or less) across the path.

If you decide to eliminate a larger portion of the lawn in favor of a low-water-use landscape, a good strategy would be to kill the grass with glyphosplate. Put in the paths and patio and then apply a 4- to 6-inch layer of chopped shredded or other attractive but inexpensive mulch to cover the killed lawn. Planting of perennials, shrubs and more shade trees can be done as weather and your budget allow.

How to save even more water / money

Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Compost instead and save gallons every time.

Plant during the spring or fall when the watering requirements are lower.

Minimize evaporation by watering during the early morning hours, when temperatures are cooler and winds are lighter.

Use a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year.

Collect the water you use for rinsing produce and reuse it to water houseplants.

When you clean your fish tank, use the water you've drained on your plants. The water is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, providing you with a free and effective fertilizer.

Use porous materials for walkways and patios to keep water in your yard and prevent wasteful runoff.

Direct downspouts and other runoff towards shrubs and trees, or collect and use for your garden.

Choose a water-efficient drip irrigation system for trees, shrubs and flowers. Watering at the roots is very effective, be careful not to over water.

Group plants with the same watering needs together to get the most out of your watering time.

Remember to weed your lawn and garden regularly. Weeds compete with other plants for nutrients, light, and water.

While fertilizers promote plant growth, they also increase water consumption. Apply the minimum amount of fertilizer needed.

Avoid installing ornamental water features and fountains that spray water into the air. Trickling or cascading fountains lose less water to evaporation.

Leave lower branches on trees and shrubs and allow leaf litter to accumulate on top of the soil. This keeps the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.

Start a compost pile. Using compost when you plant adds water-holding organic matter to the soil.

Aerate your lawn. Punch holes in your lawn about six inches apart so water will reach the roots rather than run off the surface.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Don’t ask your government for your Privacy, take it back:

I got tired of people constantly shouting “contact your congress person about SOPA/PIPA/CISPA/Whatever-Its-Called-Next-Week”. Many of us did contact our congress person, some congress people were already staunchly for or against the legislation. After all of that, then we had CISPA.

Only contacting your congress person will not guarantee your privacy.

However, Cryptography will ensure your privacy, with complex mathematics instead of legislation. Cryptography cannot be restricted by law nor can it be coerced by violence. Feel free to still contact your congress bro, after you install the software (below). Just don’t expect the relentless march of SOPA/PIPA/CISPA to stop. Expect new legislation with a different acronym next month.

Don’t ask your government for your Privacy, take it back:
Don't want your information monitored online? Whatever you do, don't Google.

Don’t want your information monitored online? Whatever you do, don’t Google.
As always, we also welcome any and all suggestions for going invisible online in the comments below. Here, in no particular order, are a few suggestions:

Use Tor to mask your IP address

Your internet protocol (IP) address is a numerical representation assigned to any device (computers, printers, phones, etc.) that connects to the internet. Outsiders can trace your IP to track who you’ve been communicating with, what websites you’ve been visiting, and especially if you’ve been up to anything illegal, like downloading copyrighted stuff from Piratebay.

That’s where Tor comes in. Originally developed by the U.S. Navy, Tor is widely used by activists, hackers, journalists, law enforcement, and many others to evade detection. Basically, it’s a system designed to mask your IP address by making its path to the website you want to visit as confusing as possible.
It works by funneling your connection through a series of networked Tor computers at random — like a relay race through a dense crowd of people. Each “relay stop” can only see the IP address of the computer directly before it; by the time you finally connect to your destination, your data path should be split among multiple computers around the world. The more users there are on the Tor network, the harder you are to find.

The easiest way to use it is to download the Tor browser. MIT Technology Review also has a great explainer of how the technology works here.

If you’d rather stick with Chrome or Firefox as your primary browser, you can download the HTTPS Everywhere extension, which encrypts your connection with major websites to make browsing more secure. While the extension project is a collaboration between The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it’s not quite as sophisticated as Tor itself. One big downside: Many sites offer limited support for HTTPS, so browsing can be a bit unpredictable.

Consider setting up a VPN Virtual Private Networks more-or-less hide your data from the public domain. VPNs were originally set up to allow remote employees access the company’s secure servers through encrypted tunnels. But average users can set-up their own VPNs to keep their traffic secure, especially when using something like Starbucks’ free WiFi (which crooks can use to glean your password).

You can find plenty of free VPN services out there. One we like is called Hamachi, which is a free tool that allows users to route traffic back through their home internet connection when they’re out on the road. It’s easy to set up, too.

Another VPN service worth checking out is a one-flick app called TunnelBear, which The Next Web recommends. It’s also free though you’ll have to pay a $5 fee if you surpass 1GB in monthly data.

Not only is it neat-looking (its mascot is a bear!), but it also has apps for both iOS and Android.

Encrypt your sensitive emails Why should you, a non-whistleblowing, non-spy, encrypt your email messages? Well, if you’re sending sensitive information — like social security numbers or bank account information for a wireless transfer — you obviously don’t want that kind of stuff to get intercepted by the wrong eyes.

You can encrypt your important emails in a few ways. PC World has a great walkthrough that helps you manually encrypt three different things to ensure maximum security: (1) The connection to your email provider, (2) the actual emails themselves, and (3) the archived and cached versions of your emails.

One service we really like is called Lockbin, which promises to protect messages using FIPS 140-2 encryption libraries. Better yet: It’s free, and you don’t have to register to use it. You just fill out a form with your message and seal it shut with a secret password.

If you’re a Mac user, GPG Mail is a free service that generates a PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) key to encrypt your messages. Here’s how it looks in action, but you can try it out for yourself here. (Also, if you’re interested in learning more about PGP communication, this is a good place to start.)

Don’t Google If you’ve been following the NSA tracking story, you’ll know that Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft (which owns Bing) were all reportedly sending data to the government. (An accusation they have all denied, of course.) If you don’t want your search history recorded, try DuckDuckGo, which promises not to track or store your searches. (Although it does use your searches to improve its algorithms.) The service’s traffic has increased 50 percent since news of the PRISM program leaked.

Chat in private

Gchat, iMessage, and their ilk are eminently snoopable. If you want to have a real private conversation online, Quinn Norton at ProPublica recommends an encrypted chat service like Cryptocat. To use it, simply download the browser plugin, create a name and a chatroom, and invite whoever you’d like to talk to. As Norton notes, Cryptocat “is hands-down the easiest way to get started with end-to-end encryption, where only you and the person you’re talking to can see the message.”

Use this guide as a starting point, but let us know below if there are other good services you use to keep your data safe and secure.