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Additionally, while you’re here be sure to check out our highly recommended wholesale cell phone service provider Lightyear Wireless. They offer “true” unlimited talk, text, and web (with no data cap or slow down) prepaid service for only $59.99 per month. No contract or credit check required! They don’t add the 28% in fee’s you typically see on your phone bill either. The only other fee Lightyear Wireless will charge you is state sales tax. For example in Rhode Island the whole bill is $64.17 and your bill will stay the same every month. In Florida there is no state sales tax so you only pay $59.99. Incredibly, they even offer customers a way to earn FREE unlimited service with their refer 5 plan. For all the details about Lightyear Wireless click here.

 

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ANCIENT EASTER RITE ‘Holy fire’ ceremony draws thousands in Jerusalem

Apr. 19, 2014: Christian pilgrims hold candles at the church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to be the burial site of Jesus Christ, during the ceremony of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem's Old City.

The dark hall inside Christianity's holiest shrine was illuminated with the flames from thousands of candles on Saturday as worshippers participated in the holy fire ceremony, a momentous spiritual event in Orthodox Easter rites.

Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected at the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands in the Old City of Jerusalem. While the source of the holy fire is a closely guarded secret, believers say the flame appears spontaneously from his tomb on the day before Easter to show Jesus has not forgotten his followers.

The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years.

Thousands of Christians waited outside the church for it to open Saturday morning. Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by a number of denominations that jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile network of agreements hammered out over the last millennia. In accordance with tradition, the church's doors were unlocked by a member of a Muslim family, who for centuries has been the keeper of the ancient key that is passed on within the family from generation to generation.

Once inside, clergymen from the various Orthodox denominations in robes and hoods jostled for space with local worshippers and pilgrims from around the world.

Top Orthodox clergymen descended into the small chamber marking the site of Jesus' tomb as worshippers eagerly waited in the dim church clutching bundles of unlit candles and torches.

After a while, candles emerged lit with "holy fire" -- said to have been lit by a miracle as a message to the faithful from heaven.

Bells rang as worshippers rushed to use the flames to ignite their own candles.

In mere seconds, the bursts of light spread throughout the cavernous church as flames jumped from one candle to another. Clouds of smoke wafted through the crammed hall as flashes from cameras and mobile phones documented what is for many, the spiritual event of a lifetime.

Some held light from the "holy fire" to their faces to bask in the glow while others dripped wax on their bodies.Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said tens of thousands of worshippers participated in the ceremony.

Many couldn't fit inside the church and the narrow winding streets of the Old City were lined with pilgrims.

The "holy fire" was passed among worshippers outside the Church and then taken to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where tradition holds Jesus was born, and from there to other Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank.

Later it is taken aboard special flights to Athens and other cities, linking many of the 200 million Orthodox worldwide.

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How to use password managers for mobile – #AskJeffTech

Jefferson Graham answers readers questions-on using password manager apps on the go.

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LOS ANGELES — Last week we spoke about using password manager apps to keep track of the ever-growing list of passwords and user names for favorite websites.

Free tools like Dashlane, PasswordBox and LastPass work great when used on a computer. But we heard from readers with follow-up questions about using them elsewhere.

Gary, for instance, on Facebook, comments: "Much harder on mobile than desktop."

Considerably. For instance:

— Will Dashlane open the lock screen on my iPhone? (No.)

— Does PasswordBox throw the iTunes password in there for me when I pick up new apps? (Wouldn't that be nice?)

— Can any of the password managers key in my password for websites I visit via Safari, like Facebook or Dropbox? (Most won't, but PasswordBox will. On Android phones, it's not as cut and dried: You can do way more with password managers.)

So let's take a closer look, using, as examples, Dashlane and PasswordBox, two heavily downloaded apps.

Both apps have free versions. Dashlane charges $29.99 yearly for mobile access, while PasswordBox charges $12 yearly if you access more than 25 passwords.

The challenge for Dashlane is using it to create impossible-to-remember passwords, and then trying to open those sites on Safari, the Web browser for the iPhone and iPad.

Instead, think of Dashlane as a vault, a place to store those hard-to-remember combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that were created within the manager.

Open the app on the iPhone or iPad, and from there you can copy the password by clicking a tab, and then pasting into a website for sign-in.

Or, if you prefer signing in without copying and pasting, you can use the built-in browser — both Dashlane and PasswordBox have them — to bypass Safari. This is the workaround to open up sites and have sign-in credentials entered automatically.

It's also a workaround for e-commerce. One of the benefits of Dashlane (a feature you can't currently do with PasswordBox) is storing your credit card info — including the card number, expiration date and CVC code, along with address book info. When you want to buy, you just click one button for the transaction.

But you won't be able to do this in Safari. You'll need to use Dashlane's browser on sites like Amazon, eBay and the like.

On Android, it's a different story.

You still can't use the manager to unlock the lock screen — although PasswordBox says it's working on a solution with Samsung for the new Galaxy S5 to make this happen.

On most Android phones, like on PCs, the managers interact directly with Google's Chrome browser, making the add-on browser tool or vault status unnecessary.

So, if you have an Android phone, you're going to find the password manager experience to almost mirror that of the computer. And if you prefer the iPhone or iPad, either learn to use few passwords to make use of PasswordBox's iPhone 25 password limit for mobile log-on, pay the subscription, or stick with and pay for Dashlane's mobile access, and get used to copying and pasting those passwords within the built-in app browser.

Folks, keep the questions coming in. Look for me on Facebook, or on Twitter, where I'm @JeffersonGraham, and use the hastag #AskJeffTech so we can find you.

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Top tablets for kids: Your essential guide

Jennifer Jolly, Special for USA TODAY 1:07 a.m. EDT April 19, 2014

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It's official: You're buying a tablet for the kids. Since you've done all your homework with parts one and two of this Kids and Tablets series, you know what's in store for you when you turn your young ones loose on these high-tech toys. But before you run out and plunk down hundreds of dollars, take a look at some of the options to figure out the best fit for your family. Here are some of today's top choices based on age, price and overall wow factor.

TABLETS WITH TRAINING WHEELS

Kid-specific tablets, like those from ClickN Kids, Kurio, VTech, Fuhu, or LeapFrogare like tablets with training wheels. As we mentioned in part two of this series, these can be a great way for youngsters to cut their cyber-teeth. They're often targeted to kids 3 to 9, and come loaded with varying degrees of age-specific games, educational apps, parental controls, content filters and even timers to help with that whole "too much screen time" issue. Here are a few kid-centric options to consider:

PART ONE: Kids can't resist the tablet temptation

CLICKN KIDS, $100

Pro: Inexpensive, long battery life, great suite of parental controls, great phonics program
Con: Dark screen, hard to find the on/off switch

This is a low-priced, entry-level Android tablet that the whole family can use. It comes preloaded with more than 30 apps, including a learn-to-read specific Looney Tunes Phonics series (which normally costs an additional $30). There's a slight learning curve (it's hard to find the "on" switch — though the company is revamping its design and bumper cover to make this easier). But one of the features I like the most is the home screen with two giant buttons: one labeled "Grown Ups," the other labeled "Kids."

PART TWO: Rules of the road for kids and tablets

It also has a bevy of parental controls, including app approval, Internet management, time-limit controls and activity monitoring. But these aren't always easy to find and use, and it will require some time and patience to really take advantage of these features. Put it next to one of the more expensive kids' tablets and it looks a little bleak in contrast, especially since it has the darkest screen of all of the models we reviewed. Will kids notice this? Probably not, as long as you don't give them a side-by-side comparison.

LEAPPAD ULTRA, $149

Pro: Awesome educational tablet for young kids
Con: Apps can get expensive, not a good tablet for older kids or adults

This is a great first tablet for a young child, especially in the 4- to 9-year-old range. The LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra has an education focus and is covered with plastic bumpers, a large 7-inch touch screen, full Wi-Fi capabilities and a rechargeable battery. These were fan favorites with the youngest of our reviewers, who especially like the front- and rear-facing cameras, MP3 player, and fact that this just looks like a fun toy. While it's tough enough to hold up well through various spills, drops and other kid-life wear and tear, this is not a tablet your tween will want to be seen with, nor one you'll use after the kids go to bed.

SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB 3 7.0" Kids Edition, $199

Pro: Great battery life, beautiful high-end tablet that can grow with kids
Con: Expensive, fewer parental controls

Like the ClickN Kids, this tablet also swaps between adults and children with ease. Overall, it is one of the best and easiest to use kid-specific devices around. Within Kids Mode, youngsters can play preloaded games, and you can always add more from the Kids Store and the Google Play Store. Parents have the option to approve which apps children can play with and also set time limits on how long kids can play on the device.

The tablet comes with a bumper or a protective case, which also doubles as a stand. With a beautiful, bright and crisp screen, and a solid nine hours of battery life, this tablet can outlast most kids on a single charge. On the downside, it's all or nothing with letting your child surf the Web on this device. It's easy to limit a child's access to apps and set time limits for playing with the device, but when it comes to overall Internet security, there's no middle ground — you have to turn the built-in browser "on" or "off," so you can't really customize which websites or categories kids can visit.

KIDS TABLET TRENDS TO WATCH

FUHU DREAMTAB, $269

Fuhu's a prolific kids tablet maker, and the company is about to launch a new tablet that makes a deeper connection between super-popular kids movies and the exploding tablet market. The Android-based Fuhu DreamTab comes out in early June, loaded with DreamWorks Animations interactive videos and games based on the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar franchises, as well as others. While Fuhu has been criticized in the past for not putting enough emphasis on educational content, the new tab stands up well to the competition, coaching kids on how to draw and animate their favorite characters, create books and edit videos. Even the parental controls get the cartoon treatment. A short video of a DreamWorks character tells kids when it's time to take a break from the screen or shut down for the day. Parental controls have also gotten the star-treatment, including first-of-its-kind Child's Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) compliant email, a kid-friendly social network and texting.

KURIO EXTREME, 4G LTE (exclusively on the Verizon Wireless network), $229

Launching this fall, this 7-inch Android tablet is designed just for kids, yet loosens the leash with the first 4G connectivity through Verizon. This means that kids can have the same connectivity as adults, using tablets to play, watch and surf the Web on the go. Back in January, when this was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show, company officials told me this connectivity is important, with one official noting that "kids want to use tablets the same way as their parents, and that means having access to all kinds of content wherever they are, and whenever they want." Hmm.

It seems to me that with this new connectivity comes new concerns with child privacy, and additional cellular expense, though the company says the tablet will be easy to add to existing family plans, and per-app parental controls prevent kids from visiting salacious websites or streaming music after bedtime.

TABLETS TO GROW WITH

Depending on the age of your kids, your budget and whether you want to use the tablet too, a better value might be a full-featured "grown-up" tablet that kids can learn from and also grow into. Many of these now come with features geared toward kids — like Amazon's Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, or Netflix's kid-specific interface — and just might be all you need to turn a family tablet into a more child-friendly device.

If you're hesitant to buy a device kids will outgrow relatively soon, you might be tempted to plunk down $50 or so for a Target or Walmart special, but remember, ultra-low prices usually mean ultra-low quality. Your child could crumble under the frustration of buggy software and cheap construction that can't take what kids dish out, and you'll likely find yourself shelling out more cash for a proper tablet later on anyway.

If you do decide on a full-fledged tablet, the biggest decision you'll make is deciding between an Android device or an iPad. There are high-quality options on both sides, and you'll get a wealth of parental controls either way, so it can come down to a matter of taste. But if you're ready to help your novice tablet user dive into a real tablet, these are your best bets:

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7" (Wi-Fi), $244

Amazon's hugely popular tablet runs a slightly modified version of Android, but still plays all the hit games, and the Kindle store has a ton of kids programming and educational content. The Kindle Fire HDX stereo speakers and sharp LCD screen are great for videos. Kindle FreeTime is a solid parental control mode that lets you set separate time limits for different kinds of content; similarly, the new Mayday remote video support means you can get help whenever the child messes up the settings. Amazon's media store reigns supreme with the best selection of books, movies, TV shows and music, and its simplified interface is also easier for kids to use than standard Android.

Google Nexus 7" (16GB), $229

Google's premiere gadget, the Nexus 7", is an intuitive device that kids will be able to navigate without issue. But don't kid yourself: This is a very "adult" device, and you may need to set limits for Web browsing, mature games and other content. We show you how to do just that in part four of this Kids and Tablets series.

Apple iPad mini, (16GB, Wi-Fi), $299

If you want to go all out, get them a pint-sized but powerful device worth growing into. The iPad mini is just as capable as its bigger brother, but its shrunken form factor is a big hit with young hands. The biggest issue with giving such a grand tablet to a child is the fear of losing or breaking it. You'll have to invest in a great case, and be sure that Find My iPad is turned on!

HAND-ME-DOWN DEVICES

Of course you don't have to bestow a brand new, top-of-the-line tablet on your kids. Consider handing down your own tablet and scoring a personal upgrade in the process, or picking up a last-generation or refurbished model for a fraction of cutting-edge prices.

Regardless of which one of these is the best fit for your family, it's important to make sure risky apps and websites are nowhere to be found. Keep an eye out for the next episode of Tech Now, where we'll show you everything you need to do to keep your kids' tablet on the right side of the tracks.

Don't see the model you're wondering about in this list? We've reported extensively on all brands, shapes, sizes and models, so be sure to do a quick search for the brand you're looking for, and read more here in our tech section at USAToday.com. As always, be sure to share your comments with us below.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.

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Photo: Facebook announces redesign for Android smartphone app – @YahooTech

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Pro-Russian militants continue occupation of goverment buildings in eastern Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian activists continued their defiant occupation of government buildings across eastern Ukraine on Friday, though some of their leaders said they would surrender weapons and pull back if the Ukrainian security forces also withdrew.

The pro-Russian militants occupying the Donetsk government offices said they supported an accord signed Thursday in Geneva that seeks to calm the potential for violence in the restive region. But they said they would lay down their weapons and leave only if the new national government in Kiev steps down.

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

The pro-Russian activists did not appear to be preparing to decamp, and so the standoff looked likely to continue.

In the parliament in Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Friday that the new government was watching to see what the pro-Russian activists would do on the heels of the Geneva agreement. The accord, reached by top diplomats from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union, is intended to defuse the Ukrainian crisis and includes provisions aimed at stopping violence and provocative acts. The deal also calls for all illegal groups to be disarmed.

The prime minister said parliament was ready to pass a bill that would grant amnesty to protesters who vacate occupied buildings and put down their weapons, but he said he did not have “unreasonable” expectations that the stalemate would quickly end.

“Russia had no other choice but to sign the statement and condemn extremism,” he said. “Having signed this statement, Russia effectively asked these “peaceful protesters” with Kalashnikov assault rifles and air defense missile systems to immediately disarm and surrender their weapons.”

On Thursday, Ukrainian forces engaged pro-Russian separatists in what appeared to be the most intense battle yet in restive eastern Ukraine, killing three militants and wounding 13 after what the Interior Ministry described as a siege of a military base.

“A mob of 300 militants, wielding guns, molotov cocktails and homemade explosives, attacked the Ukrainian military outpost in the city overnight,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement. The attack, he said, was repelled by National Guard and police in Mariupol, a southeastern city on the Sea of Azov.

After a “short battle,” Ukrainian commandos and counterintelligence units fanned out into the city by ground and helicopter in an operation to round up militants, Avakov said. He said 63 separatists have been detained in the operation, which he described as ongoing. Avakov reported no causalities among Ukrainian forces.

“Weapons, communication equipment and mobile phones were confiscated,” he said. “The identities of the detained persons are being established.”

Speaking at the parliament Thursday morning in the capital, Kiev, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the pro-Russian gang attempted to storm the base three times and carried automatic weapons, according to an Associated Press report.

Avakov said Ukrainian forces opened fire only after being attacked and firing warning shots in the air. “Following further warnings, they executed ‘shoot to kill’ instructions in compliance with their charter, after they were attacked once again,” Avakov said.

A dark YouTube video purportedly documenting the clash captured the sound of gunfire and militants hurling molotov cocktails into the outpost. Separatists yelled, “Go home, Bandera,” a reference to Stepan Bandera, a controversial World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the Nazis and is seen as a symbol of the divisions between eastern and western Ukraine.

In Mariupol, a grisly tableau of bloodstains lined the scene beyond the ruined gates of the military base Thursday. A wrecked jeep — its windows and tires broken and its frame dented and partially crushed — rested in front of two military trucks being used as impromptu barricades. Remains of molotov cocktails were scattered inside the entrance to the base, where nervous young soldiers tried unsuccessfully to keep onlookers from gazing at the wreckage.

In the afternoon, the city remained calm, but tensions were high at the scene of the clash, where clusters of pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian residents were engaging in heated arguments over the future of the country. Pro-Ukrainians accused some present of being on the payroll of local Russian operatives. One pro-Russian man, who gave his name only as Konstantin, was accompanied by a man carrying video cameras, who described himself as a journalist supporting the militants who have taken over official buildings in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Waving his finger, Konstantin, who said he had formerly served in the Soviet military, accused residents who support the Kiev government of being American lapdogs. “Don’t listen to them; they are trying to turn brother against brother,” he said, referring to Russians and Ukrainians.

“Why did they open fire? These were peaceful protests!” Konstantin continued. Moments later, however, he conceded that the pro-Russians who had gathered here last night had hurled molotov cocktails at the Ukrainian troops.

The base sits only a short distance away from the Mariupol City Hall, which was seized by pro-Russian militants last week and remained under their control Thursday. Eyewitnesses and military officials said the clash began at 7:50 p.m., when hundreds of pro-Russian activists — some in green camouflage and wearing balaclava masks — marched to the gates and demanded that the military surrender weapons that had been moved to the base for safekeeping from police stations around this port city.

Witnesses said the protest seemed to start peacefully, but by 8:30 p.m. local time, the crowd grew belligerent, throwing makeshift explosives over the gates and firing bullets. A 75-year-old who lives next door to the outpost and gave her name only as Klavdia said she heard a Ukrainian military official ask the crowd to disperse.

She said the soldier called out: “Please put down the weapons and molotovs. We don’t want blood.’’

But his warning was ignored, she said, and troops fired in the air. Enraged protesters soon stormed the gates, leading to exchanges of gunfire that left the bodies of dead and wounded strewn on the asphalt outside.

The Ukrainian military set up check points around Mariupol on Thursday, and newly arrived special forces were apparently seeking to identify the camps being used by pro-Russian militants. But there was no immediate sign of an attempt to raid the occupied City Hall, where anti-Kiev militants could be seen patrolling the grounds.

Ukraine is struggling to restore order in the eastern part of the country, where it says Russian special operatives are aiding local separatists in organized and well-armed occupations of official buildings in cities including Mariupol, a municipality of almost half a million people.

Ukrainian forces have seemed to be treading carefully, out of fear both of wounding civilians and of giving Russia a pretext to openly join the fight.

On Wednesday, a squad of separatists backed by seven masked gunmen in camouflage stormed the headquarters of Donetsk’s mayor and local council. By afternoon, more than 40 pro-Russian militants had occupied the building but were allowing officials to go about their business inside.

City workers shuffled to and from meetings under the watchful gaze of militants — many of them clutching automatic weapons — who loitered in the corridors. A few police officers strolled outside without attempting to intervene, evidence of the government’s tenuous grip on the region.

The militants said they are not connected with a similar group that occupied the regional headquarters in this city 10 days ago, but they issued at least one similar demand. They called for a referendum on May 11 with two questions: whether the populace agreed with the creation of a new Donetsk People’s Republic and, if so, whether it should be part of Ukraine or Russia.

“Why should we consider Russia a hostile state?” asked Alexander Zakharchenko, a commander of the militants at City Hall. “They are the closest people to us in the world.” He commands the Donetsk branch of a group called Oplot, a pro-Russia movement that started as a fight club of young men in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, to the north.

In this region of coal mines and machinery plants, where according to a local saying, “people work, not protest,” residents often tend to vote with their stomachs.

And there is no doubt that bread-and-butter issues are influencing the debate here. There are mixed feelings in the east, for instance, over the new government’s move to sign a trade deal with European Union that could lead Russia to slap higher duties on Ukrainian imports.

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Week in Tech: 5 must-know things

Jefferson Graham runs down the week's tech headlines, highlighted by Google Glass, Joe Biden's selfie and a new Family Guy app.

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LOS ANGELES — Search giant Google dominated the week's tech headlines, both up in the skies and down on the ground.

On Monday, Google said it would acquire drone maker Titan Aerospace. The hope is that the release of drones one day could bring Internet service to little-served rural areas.

On Tuesday, Google really got people going when it offered its Glass computerized eyewear for sale to the general public, for the first time. The price tag: a whopping $1,500 a pair. By the end of the day, Glass was sold out. Google still won't say when Glass will be readily available, but our best guess is sometime by the summer.

Later in the week, Google unveiled a new photography app for Android devices, Google Camera, which simulates the blurred background look that you get with DSLR cameras. The company also announced earnings, reporting sales of $15.4 billion, up from $12.95 billion in the first quarter of 2013. But Wall Street expected more and was disappointed with the results.

Meanwhile, other headlines from the week:

A MOBILE PLAY FOR FARMVILLE

From new products to an old one. Remember the game FarmVille that we used to play for hours on Facebook? You know, the game where your friends used to bug you to buy livestock and acres for their farms? Well, game maker Zynga is trying to revive interest, with an all-new version of the game, this time aimed at mobile audiences. The big difference for FarmVille 2: Country Escape is less emphasis on sharing on Facebook, and more on using your iPhone or Android device.

FACEBOOK FRIENDS, FLICKR NEWS

Many popular apps got updates. Facebook will add a new "Nearby Friends" feature in coming weeks, letting you discover the whereabouts of your pals in real time. And Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing app got a major update, bringing it more in line with photo app powerhouse Instagram and letting you share images across multiple sites. Like Google +, the new Flickr makes an automatic backup of your camera phone images, and invites you to post them to Flickr, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

BIDEN JOINS INSTAGRAM

Speaking of Instagram, the Facebook-owned app got a new, high-profile user this week: Vice President Biden. So far he's posted a handful of images. The highlight: a selfie with the VP and President Obama.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden(Photo: Instagram)

Bonus: APP CHARTS

Finally, speaking of apps, a new one based on the hit TV show Family Guy is zooming up the Apple and Android charts. Family Guy: A Quest for Stuff lets you dress up your favorite characters with silly outfits, and send them on new adventures.

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter.

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How to cut the costs of TV viewing

Kim Komando , Special for USA TODAY 7 a.m. EDT April 18, 2014

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I suspect you're like me. You just want to sit down in front of the TV and find something interesting to watch. Fat chance of that these days. Watching your favorite shows is getting more complicated. It's also getting more expensive.

What's wrong with this picture?

For starters, let's look at the current TV landscape. We've got cable, satellite and over-the-air broadcasts. We've got basic stations and premium ones. We've got online video-streaming gadgets like the Apple TV, the Roku box, Google's Chromecast and smart TVs, which can sidestep cable TV.

If you ditch cable for streaming, though, you'll need to choose from the iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and many other streaming services. Each has distinctive pros and cons but overall inconsistent support on the streaming hardware.

(For you technically astute, I know that there are also the game consoles that offer programming, but let's not even go there.)

If that wasn't enough, Amazon debuted a new box dubbed FireTV for movies, television shows and games. There are also reports of a new Android set-top box from Google that does the same. And not to be left out, there are announcements of a new slate of high-end shows, from Yahoo and Microsoft, getting into the original video programming area.

I suppose I should be thankful for all of this variety, but I'm really just tearing my hair out.

It's a free country, and any company that wants to get into this crazy game can. I understand that there are a lot of interested parties. On the one hand, there are old-school operations like the big cable companies (who want to keep subscribers tied to their big monthly fees) and the hardware makers (like Sony, which makes TVs, high-end game boxes and also owns movie and TV studios).

On the other are the economic disruptors, like Netflix or Apple or Amazon, that have the desire to bring this whole business into the 21st century and have the money to elbow their way into the mix.

I wish I could tell you things are going to get better. For now, they are not. None of these parties has a vested interest in making things easier for us, the consumers. The digital companies, I'll grant you, probably are a bit more idealistic about getting us together under one easy-to-use roof. But they've been frustrated by the old guard in the past and have basically just declared war.

In this analogy, that makes me and you the folks who duck and cover.

What to do in the meantime? To start, try to bring down those cable bills.

Call your cable company. Tell them, sincerely, your cable bills are too high and you need to cut some services; you might come out with a good deal. Or threaten to go to satellite or cut the cord entirely.

Next, consider whether you actually can live without cable. A lot of shows are available online.

If you're a news junkie, a little bit of time figuring out the browser called Tor will let you stream a lot of news programming live. Most cable providers don't let outlets like CNN stream live. They can be seen overseas however, and Tor disguises your country of origin.

If you're with me this far, and you don't have a streaming box yet, that's where your next decision lies. With all these companies vying for consumers, their products are reasonably priced, and quite powerful.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, newsletters and more, visit www.komando.com. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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Q and A: Making money on YouTube

Kim Komando, Special for USA TODAY 7 a.m. EDT April 18, 2014

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Q. My boys, ages 11 and 12, are visiting relatives in China and have been making great movies on their journey. Is there a way they can make some money with these videos?

A. There are lots of people making millions on YouTube. It's a matter of getting something to go viral. So where do you start? Most viral videos tell a story, spark emotions, are awe-inspiring, funny or a combination of these. They are usually between 45 seconds to 2 minutes. You should submit your videos to a site like No Entry Fee Festivals or Vimeo.com. If either of these sites pick up just one of your videos, you will be all set. Otherwise, keep your YouTube page up to date and keep the content flowing. You will want to post at least one new video per week to keep your audience engaged.

WINDOWS TABLET TO REPLACE AN ANDROID

Q. I recently bought an Android tablet for work and have been very disappointed. It doesn't work with the programs I need, such as QuickBooks and Microsoft Office. Are Windows tablets better at handling this type or work? If so, which one do you suggest?

A. The Surface Pro 2 is like a laptop in tablet form. It runs a full version of Windows 8, meaning it will run any Microsoft program. Of course, it's a laptop price starting at $900. Depending on your budget, that might be a little steep. You might be better off getting a bulkier — but still fast — Windows laptop for $500 to $600.

WIRELESS WAYS TO LOCK UP

Q. I think I heard that there was a new wireless keyless door locking system introduced at the Las Vegas tech show a few months ago. You could control it with an iPhone or iPad. Do you have a link to any information about this system?

A. Not only was Kevo at The Consumer Electronics Show this year, it won the 2014 CES Innovations Award, and also featured on the show "Shark Tank." This system turns your iPhone 4s, 5, 5c and 5s (support for other phones is still in development) into your house key – although you can also opt to get a key fob if you wish to keep smartphones out of the equation. You just need to get the Kevo app and keep your phone in your pocket or purse. When you want to get into your house or office, simply touch the lock to open it. It's as easy as that. However, you will need to pay for the special lock, which is around $200 and some change. The upside to Kevo is that you can give out an unlimited number of keys, so if you run a large office or warehouse, giving out multiple keys to employees won't be a problem.

REARRANGE YOUR MONITOR FOR COMFORT

Q. I have to strain my eyes to see text on my monitor. Am I sitting too far away?

A. Possibly. Try tinkering with your font size before you arrange your monitor, though. In Windows, go to Control Panel>>Appearance and Personalization>>Personalization>>Adjust Font Size. For Macs, go to Apple>>System Preferences>>Universal Preferences>>Seeing. For ideal comfort, your monitor should be about an arm's length away from you. Adjust it so the top of the screen is at or just below your eye level. Of course, make sure your monitor is pointed away from any glare that could reflect off of it for maximum comfort. There are also plenty of apps that can help you fight eye strain. Click here to see what they are.

UNDERWATER CAMERA FOR VACATION

Q. I'm going to the Dominican Republic for my 25th wedding anniversary. We plan on doing a lot of snorkeling, so I was wondering what kind of underwater cameras out there and what kind I should get?

A. You have a couple of options. Most point and shoot cameras can get the job done when you add a waterproof casing. But since it's a special occasion, the Go Pro is the highest standard for these types of cameras. Go Pros can be a little pricey (The GoPro 3+ is $400), so if you want a similar camera for a little less, you can try the Garmin VIRB, priced at $300.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, newsletters and more, visit www.komando.com. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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Commentary: Envisioning a brave new world of e-commerce

Rob LoCascio, SPECIAL FOR USA TODAY 3:38 p.m. EDT April 18, 2014

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NEW YORK -- With all the exciting advancements in consumer technology, why is it that innovation in e-commerce is stagnant?

The status quo of the digital shopping experience has not changed since the dawn of the Internet. Today's consumer experience still consists of a two-dimensional, unimaginative website. Yet, when you look at consumer technology, there is an exciting world of wearable's, "smart" technology, and even virtual augmentation.

Why the disconnect?

With all the capabilities we have today -- power of big data and the proliferation of communication platforms and technologies -- the digital shopping experience has the potential to be exciting. Yet, it makes up only 7% of U.S. retail sales, according to Forrester Research, and conversion rates hover around 1% to 2% -- virtually unchanged since 1995. Additionally, up to 70% of traffic driven from search bounces off the first page of a website, never making it past one click.

Search is the main culprit. Companies, namely Google, emerged early on to provide consumers a better way to navigate content. Simultaneously, it began to shape the rules of e-commerce that we know today. Brands now have to play by certain rules to be "searchable," focusing on SEO content and keywords versus the consumer experience itself.

Marketers seeing fewer returns on search spend and also getting less data, leaving consumers increasingly dissatisfied.

It's hard to believe we have some industry leaders bold enough to predict "The end of the Internet" by crowning the app era. But, with consumers spending more time on their mobile phones versus their PCs and laptops, according to Nielsen, it's apparent mobile commerce does not face the same challenges of e-commerce.

That said, it is the mobile movement that is going to transform communication. Consumers today are choosing to connect via mobile messaging platforms over email, voice, or SMS. In less than three years, more than 1.5 billion consumers around the world are using these mobile platforms.

While cost may have initially driven adoption for regions outside the US where SMS is costly, the reasons these apps boast high rates of engagement is because it enables consumers to have rich, real-time, one to one interactions, wherever they are.

The 1.5 billion consumers using platforms today are the digital shoppers of tomorrow, and they'll expect the same experience from their favorite brands. This will be the new standard.

While challenging Google's model seems like a daunting task, many brands are already looking to challenge it.

One example is eBay, who commissioned a survey challenging the effectiveness of paid search. It found if it shut down keywords, in which it spends $51 million annually, it would lose less than 3% of its traffic. Its findings suggest "the efficacy of SEM is weak, a conclusion that is likely to apply to other large brands that together spend billions of dollars a year on Internet marketing."

So, why should brands continue to invest in paid traffic, which is arguably becoming less and less qualified, rather than putting dollars towards delivering an exciting, one-on-one experience to its consumers?

Companies need to invest in a strategy that lets them build powerful, one-to-one relationships with their customers across all digital touch points, so that search eventually becomes an unnecessary step between consumer and brand. An e-commerce experience should be more like a high-end boutique versus a vending machine.

Wherever your consumers are connecting with you, they should feel excited about engaging with your brand directly and eager to spend time and money with you.

With all of the technology, connectivity and multi-channel functionality at our disposal, we have the power to create a brave new world of e-commerce: an emotional experience that truly creates lifetime relationships.

Robert LoCascio is founder and CEO of LivePerson, an online marketing and web analytics company.

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Zynga bets the Farm(Ville) on mobile

After spending years building its wealth through the desktop computer, Zynga is ready to bet the farm on mobile.

On Thursday, the video game maker launches its next title starring its biggest franchise, FarmVille, at what might be the most critical point in the company's seven-year history.

FarmVille 2: Country Escape, available Thursday for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, represents the vision of new CEO Don Mattrick, who took over nearly nine months ago to revamp Zynga's games business.

This next installment of FarmVille, which has attracted more than 400 million players since it launched five years ago, also marks a new approach for Zynga: building games focused first on the surging mobile audience.

"I feel we've made good progress on what's a long journey," Mattrick says of the company's attempted turnaround. "This market is a really exciting market to participate in. The growth of mobile devices, the success that we're seeing from other companies, is inspiring to myself and to our team. We recognize that the opportunity is there to compete and win."

A scene from FarmVille 2: Country Escape for Apple iOS and Google Android devices.(Photo: Zynga)

Times have changed since 2009, when Zynga began its ascent with FarmVille. Two years after Mark Pincus founded Zynga in 2007, the company launched FarmVille as a "social game" that let players manage their own farms, from harvesting crops to raising animals.

FarmVille leveraged another new player in the video game space: Facebook. The game took advantage of Facebook's growing audience to spread the word, through friend requests to start their own farms or offerings of fresh crops.

"Because they were attached to Facebook, they had almost that built-in growth right there on their doorstep," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. "They just had to take advantage of it."

FarmVille became Zynga's biggest hit. Nine weeks after making its debut in June 2009, the game topped 11 million daily active users, averaging more than 1 million new users a week. To date, players have spent more than $1 billion on FarmVille. The franchise spawned other Zynga titles carrying the Ville moniker, from CityVille to ChefVille, although none managed to top the popularity of FarmVille.

"There was a time where (FarmVille) was sort of the 'it' game on Facebook," says Cowen and Company analyst Doug Creutz. "And Facebook was sort of the 'it' place to be for the casual gamer."

The rise of games such as FarmVille and the Scrabble-like game Words With Friends transformed Zynga into a gaming behemoth, leading to an initial public offering in 2011.

Then a new gaming platform started to emerge: the mobile device. Smartphones and tablets replaced Facebook as the hot spots for casual games, and some players ditched their farms for games such as Rovio's Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga, from casual games darling King, which just followed Zynga's footsteps by launching its own initial public offering last month.

According to research firm Gartner, the mobile games business raked in $13 billion in revenue worldwide last year. By 2015, it could top $22 billion.

"Out of all the video game segments, it's mobile that's growing the fastest," says Blau.

Zynga was one of countless companies caught unprepared for the mobile boom. "They've really struggled on mobile," says Creutz. "Their Facebook business has been declining for a while."

Overall, Zynga's player base shrunk from 311 million monthly active users during the third quarter of 2012 to 112 million following the fourth quarter of last year. Annual revenue dipped from $1.28 billion in 2012 to $873 million last year. Meanwhile, Zynga shares sunk after its IPO launch. Following a peak of $14.69 in early March 2012, shares have failed to close above $10 in two years.

The declines forced Zynga to cut more than 500 jobs last June, its biggest layoff ever. The following month, Pincus named former Microsoft Xbox chief Mattrick as CEO.

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"He's been very supportive," Mattrick says of his relationship with Pincus. "We were able to define a relationship where he would empower me and encourage me to be CEO, where he understood that there can only be two hands on the steering wheel at any point and time. Our relationship has been intellectually rewarding."

Mattrick's arrival was the first of several executive changes at Zynga. Last fall, Mattrick appointed former Electronic Arts colleague Clive Downie as chief operating officer. Last week, the company named Best Buy veteran David Lee its chief financial officer.

"The company needed strong leadership," says Downie. "It needed a set of principles and a strategic framework and road map to work against."

One of Mattrick's early tasks was turning Zynga's development attention toward mobile. He says 75% of the company's new titles are being developed to work best on smartphones and tablets, with a goal of more than half their revenue coming from mobile this year.

Mattrick and Downie repeatedly stress a deeper focus on customers, leaning heavily on consumer feedback in creating FarmVille 2: Country Escape. "We're finally delivering something that aligns with the new devices and new consumer patterns people are using all over the world," said Mattrick.

The most notable difference is in the game's social makeup. FarmVille was known for peppering Facebook feeds with endless notifications and requests. With the new game, Zynga is giving players more options on how to share with friends.

"We heard from consumers that social control is very important," says Downie.

Jamie Davies, general manager of FarmVille 2: Country Escape, says players will still harvest crops and manage resources, but the game will also better suit the current habits of mobile players.

"Lifestyles have changed," says Davies. "People are on the go. We take our devices with us everywhere we go. We want more real-time satisfaction. I think of it as growing the franchise by bringing a more modern take and keeping up with the lifestyle of our players."

Country Escape is only the beginning of Zynga's plan at a resurgence. "Mobile-first" versions of Words With Friends and Zynga Poker are in the works. Mattrick says the company is also working on "new things," but would not elaborate on what experiences to expect.

One of those "new things" could be linked to NaturalMotion, the mobile game maker purchased by Zynga in January for $527 million. The developer created mobile titles CSR Racing and Clumsy Ninja. "They're going to develop racing games," says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Whether Mattrick's plan pulls Zynga out of its doldrums remains to be seen. Next week, Zynga reports quarterly earnings, a potential gauge of the company's current health. But Pachter believes Mattrick can help navigate the struggling games company back to its former glory.

"He's got a textbook approach to how to grow the business, which is go after the biggest opportunities," says Pachter. "I expect he will thrive. I expect he will get it right."

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @bam923.

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