Yearly Archives: 2012

Biometrics & PrivacyIt is no secret that we love convenience.  If this were not the case, most of us would still travel to a stream / river / water to wash our clothes against a rock instead of going to the laundromat / dry cleaners / washing machine in our home.  Or perhaps we would eschew electricity and heat our homes with fire, not use anything that required charging or the need to be ‘powered’ (like your computer, a television, your appliances, lights…).  Maybe we would walk more instead of using our cars to get around.

Not willing to give any of that up?  I get it!  We’re creatures of comfort and convenience.  Heaven knows we don’t have the time or patience to cook a meal instead of putting one in the microwave (or going to some fast food joint to pay for the convenience of others preparing something for us).  We built all this stuff and will hand it off to our children because we know best and have left them a better place than when we grew up in.

And that is the point of this post.  Since we marvel at the changes coming in technology and the convenience that this brings us, it is no surprise we don’t look at the long term effects or possibilities this holds for us.  We’re here in the ‘now’ and don’t have time to contemplate the future impact.  But make no mistake, the changes happening today and in our recent past continue to reverberate well into the future.

Let’s talk about privacy.  An entire organization has been built from the ground up under the auspices of protecting us – the TSA.  This very expensive and very (in my opinion) ineffective organization continues to grow and has started to permeate many other areas of society – apart from air travel – with barely any discussion of citizen concerns for their mission and tactics.  A new force of our government to dictate the behavior of the masses.

But I digress – how did we come here, what is happening now, and what is the potential impact on our (and our children’s) future.  Let’s look at a couple of experiments in our public schools.  Like it or not, once these experiments start in our schools they are more than well on their way into many other areas of society and our lives.

An article written in the USA Today (by Brian Shane) recently caught my eye – Palm scanners get thumbs up in schools, hospitals.  While many showed only superficial concern (transmission of germs by multiple folks using the device – really?  That’s all you have”  Don’t even think about all those folks grabbing the door handle of the bathroom you just existed without washing their hands…) there was one parent who opted their son out of this experiment.  Imagine that, his son would have to pay with (gasp) cash (talk about dirty!).  And would be (gasp) responsible for securing it until needing it.  How inconvenient for all involved – yet it certainly takes care of any privacy concerns.

Another article from CBS Houston had the headline of Schools’ Tracking Devices Causes Controversy.  Here the students movements are tracked like boxes of merchandise waiting to be shipped to fulfill our shopping needs at our local WalMart (or mom-n-pop store if you prefer).  RFID has been around and in use for some time, and expanding this technology seems to be on the rise.  But when one student refused to play well with this experiment (that was suppose to assist in tracking attendance, thus securing more federal funds according to the article) they were threatened with removal from the school.  How’s that for an education (or indoctrination – comply or else)?

Now my intent here is not to come across as someone that sees evil or ill intent with technology.  I did, however, want to use words to get you to think in stark terms of the initial convenience promised and the current tactics for asking for you to comply with these benevolent keepers of our kids.  And technology is good, it can be a great help, and I’m not suggesting we roll back the clock.  I am saying we may not have thought very far in the future about how these devices – and the information culled from us and shared in massive data repositories – will be used as we move forward.

Are you keeping an eye open for the advances in technology that are coming near you?  Where would you draw the line on privacy?  Biometrics (eye / finger / palm scanning)?  Naked body scanners and intrusive pat downs (coming or are already at an airport near you)?  Embedded RFID chips?  Dependence on credit cards (that are tracked well, but there are improvements and additional conveniences in the works)?  Think about the future of where all this information ends up and how the lives of those that follow will be impacted (for good, and perhaps not so good).


 

iGoogle is going awayIt seems like a long time ago that Google announced they would be shutting down their iGoogle option.  What is that?  Well, it was a great way for me to put information via RSS feeds into tabs that I set up – it allowed me to see important information to me!  It was announced in July of 2012 that the would take place in November of 2013 – so there was plenty of time to figure out where I needed to migrate to.

But it got me thinking – why should I wait?  The fact of the matter was the users of iGoogle knew a good thing when they found it, and they used it.  So there was no surprise that users were less than pleased with this decision by Google.  And the truth was, there were not many alternatives that let you do exactly what iGoogle let you do.  Or – do it as well as iGoogle did it.

So within a week of learning about the announcement I started to hunt for what I was going to switch to.  I was not super pleased about having to change what I was comfortable with, but there are a number of reasons a company can change, and I need to be flexible with a free service – I had gained everything and lost nothing!

The first article I read on alternatives as Three Alternatives to Your iGoogle Home Page on PC World by Rick Broida.  I found my answer in that post, however Rick kept getting feedback and posted Two More Alternatives to Your iGoogle Home Page as an update.  Then, he posts again in October an article titled igHome gives displaced iGoogle users a familiar home.  Each of these are a starting point for those of us wanting to replace a home page we had come to know and love.

Which one did the trick for me?  For me it was NetVibes.  It is a bit more powerful than iGoogle, and somewhat less configurable in some areas (you depend on feeds crafted by others).  And there are some ways that NetVibes just rocks over the old page (when doing a bit of mining and analytic work).

So – why write this?  Just to say whatever it is that you have come to cherish and rely on as tried and true or trusted – be aware it can and will change at some point as technology moves forward.  Be on the lookout for new trends and creative ways to do the things you want to do with your machine / laptop / tablet / smart phone.  The ways that worked well in the past just may go away as we move to something more useful.

Oh, just wondering – when was the last time you looked in the white or yellow pages for a phone number?  What about look at a paper map to plot directions?  Things keep moving forward – are you staying stagnant?


 

What Is Your PlanAfter the successful recovery of my computer, on the East Coast we were faced with a potential hurricane strike.  Since it’s a presidential election year, I thought most anything would be a better post than something that is tugging you one way or the other!  But, in honesty, this post should pull you one way – towards some plan to recover what you deem valuable / irreplaceable.

Planning for a disaster takes just a bit of thinking.  It also takes some action to prepare.  Lastly, you need to execute the plan.  Truly, it’s that simple.  If you think your computer could crash(and, this is entirely possible no matter what computer or device you have because hardware fails), perhaps you could benefit from a bit of planning / preparation / execution.  You would plan to back up your important files.  Ideally, you would back them up on some storage that could be kept away from your residence in the event … say, a hurricane blew through.

While that sounds odd, it is true.  There are entire services built on backing up your important items on your computer offsite (like carbonite.com, mozy.com or dropbox).  There are pluses and minuses with these services, just like any other solution you can review.  Where are your files?  Who else can access them?  The bottom line is, the important files you write up to these services are there and you should be able to get them back!  Perhaps that would not be possible if your computer was destroyed in the hurricane along with your backup CD’s/DVD’s/External Hard Drive.

However, the first step is thinking.  Don’t think a disaster won’t hit you – at some point it will (even if it is just a computer crash).  So get to thinking what you will do!

Next step is planning for a catastrophe.  Perhaps you purchase some backup means for your computer.  Great – now you need to figure out what to backup.  You are now putting your thoughts into action.  You are making decisions and doing tasks to ensure you have backed up and secured important stuff.  For our personal storm preparation around the house (for the hurricane) we do simple things that protect our home and our neighbors homes – we secure all the loose things in our yard.  Why?  So it doesn’t become missiles!

Lastly comes execution.  This is something that is done before the disaster so that we can recover from the disaster.  That means to backup your files.  Then check to make sure you can access those files.

The best plan in the world is of no use if it is never executed when needed.  Hard to believe?  Try this experiment.  If you are like me, I need a list to take with me when it is time to grocery shop (I wish it worked like that for the home improvement stores…).  So make your list, compile it as the week / weeks go on.  Add items you are running short on, make sure you have everything on it.  Next, forget the list and just go to the store.  Check to see how well you did with purchasing all the items that were on the forgotten list.  How did you do?  If I am any indication, you may have experienced an epic fail.

All those words to encourage you to plan to recover / survive failure.  You can plan before the storm and have a good chance of success.  Of course, you can plan after the storm, but your potential for success has plummeted.  It’s your choice!


 

Hard DriveIt must be October – at least that is my wife’s theory.  You see, it seems every year one of the computers in the house experiences some challenges during the fall time frame.  This year – it was my computer’s turn.  And of all the folks you may read about, I had best be the one taking my medicine about backing up data.

I thought I would recount this to you – not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but rather it is a story of how this can be done.  There are certainly other ways, some a bit more laborious, others a bit easier.  And the steps you may take could be based on the problem or issue you are experiencing.

In my case, all was well.  Purchased this laptop in November of 2011.  I keep it updated and tuned so I can get things done (my wife say too many things, working the machine to death).  Worked on my computer Monday until around 8pm with various items that needed attention (10/8/12).  Woke up Tuesday to start my day and was greeted with interesting messages on the screen.  My attempts to recover were not successful by the time I had to leave for work.  When I returned they were still not headed in a positive direction.

My suspicion was software corruption – at first.  Windows would not start but could get to the rescue screen.  However, not much from the rescue screen was being helpful, and I could hear a high pitched whine from the laptop.  Soon as I heard that I then suspected an eminent hardware failure.  I have been to this rodeo before with a machine or two.

After I had done my due diligence, I called the laptop vendor (I’m now using an HP laptop, this is my first HP after using many Dell’s – and I was not unhappy with Dell, just purchased this on based on price point for comparable computers this time).  While I knew the hard drive had failed, I went through the necessary tests the the agent on the phone, and they were shipping me a new hard drive.

Now I had some time to get fines off, if possible.  Not much was possible, but I was able to retrieve a few files off before the drive completely failed.  I knew any access could be the last time I accessed the files, so I got the most recent copies I could – why?  Because I actually DO back up my files regularly.  The last back up I had was from 10/1, so I had not ‘lost’ much of the work I had done or the files I needed.  I restored from back up with no issues at all – for the files I had backed up.

The new hard drive and restore disks were at my house when I got home from work Thursday (10/11) and before I went to bed the laptop was up and working, just needed to restore all my back up files.  And this went smooth, mostly!

The only areas I had not backed up – or did not back up as frequently as I should have – were my pictures (but all of them that I had not backed up were on the camera SD card, so no issues there) and my music.  When I put the music folder over, I only had about 8,500 songs in iTunes.  That was low by 2,000+ songs.  Now what should I do (other than learn the lesson to back this up a bit more often)?

Here is where a shout out to Music Rescue (from KennettNet) comes in.  I started to look for a solution to get this music off the proprietary iPod so the play lists, track names and all the meta data was in tact.  I know there are ways to hack through this, but none are super clean, and I had put many hours into the 2,000+ tracks that I had not backed up (ripping the CD’s, ensuring information was correct, adding artwork, etc.).  So the question to me was – how much time is this worth for me?

I found the answer – I’d pay the fine folks from Chicksands, Bedfordshire (in the UK) for their work to make my life easier.  For less than the price of 2 CD’s, I’d gain back hours of time doing a bit of rework.  And that was the most difficult part of the restore!

So, this was a success story.  Lost no access, could get to my email via the web, and am back up and running within a day (fully functional and all files needed).  The moral of the story?  It is worth the time and effort to back up your data.  You never can tell when hardware will fail!


 

Help YourselfLooking back at the 4+ years I have been posting on this blog has been rewarding.  I think there are times where others have been helped (at least that has been word on the street…).  I can see the searches performed and know of the information that was reviewed to some extent by folks – and I’m humbled / gratified that some have taken the advice I muse about.

For some, the advice has gotten them out of a jam (malware, spills on computers, computer maintenance, even ethical dilemmas).  Others have been able to do things for themselves and not need to depend on others.  Still others have rescued email and transitioned to other ways of communicating (like social networks).

It’s great to be able to help others!  I pray that those who have been helped pass on the knowledge and effort so the gift keeps on giving.

What about helping yourself?  Here is where I want to mash up a couple of things.  These are things you should help yourself to – take the medicine even if you don’t like the taste!

  • Backup – take time to organize yourself for future problems by backing up your data/files.  Whatever it is that was important enough for you to create and keep (pictures, documents, graphics, emails, music, videos, or whatever else that is…) make sure you back it up.
  • Do Maintenance – I still have not figured out why there is such resistance in this chore.  Yes, it takes time, and it can be a pain, but the payback is using your precious device longer and better (performance).  Take the time to clean up those temp files, update and run your anti-virus/malware programs, and ensure you have the latest patches / hotfixes / updates installed for your operating system and software!
  • Clean It – here I’m talking about physical maintenance.  Clean your screen, use canned air to blow out your ventilation areas and keyboard of your equipment.  Keep it clean!
  • Be Skeptical – just because Aunt Suzie sent you something doesn’t mean you have to click on the link or open the file.  That tweet from a friend should not compel you to click on the link it contained.  That post or tagged photo – yes, the same applies there as well.  Crafty folks are working hard to get you to click on things, don’t rush into that trap!

Those of you that have been reading my posts for a while already know that you will find links to each of the areas I have addressed above in this blog.  And – know I thank you for your time and encouragement to continue to write!  Feel free to comment, until next time… Happy Fall!


 

When you think of ethics, what do you think of?  When you go to a business, do you make your decision to do business with them based on price alone?  Product selection?  Treatment by employees?  Does ethics even make it on the list for you?

Many businesses believe strongly in the ideals of operating in a fair and ethical manner.  They understand that by following good ethics they are less likely to experience conflicts with laws and are more likely to attract loyal employees, suppliers and customers.  So most businesses expect all members of their organization to operate in an ethical manner.

What is ethics?  Simply stated, ethics is knowing the difference between right and wrong and deciding to do the right thing.  It includes upholding qualities of personal integrity, such as honesty, fairness and truthfulness.  As an employee at a business it is your own personal integrity while at work that is something only YOU can control.  This includes the following:

  • Cheating, stealing and deception undermine trust and should not be tolerated.  When you or the organization says something will happen, it should happen as stated.  If you promise to someone that you will do something, and then run into an obstacle, go back to that person and explain the difficulty.  Then see how you can move forward to make good on your promise!
  • Lies and trickery are poison to ANY organization.  If you do not know the answer, simply say so! Admit that you do not know or that you cannot answer.  Then – if possible – go find out the answer from those in the management / authority chain above you and convey the right answer when possible!
  • As you represent the business you work in, consider the interests of others.  That does not mean you give co-workers, vendors or others everything they want.  But it does mean that you are respectful of others, and you will take time to weigh their needs and even discuss with them your thought process as you seek to resolve a conflict between them and you or the business.
  • You should pursue the organization’s interests, free from secret motives to advance others (or yourself).  In addition you should not be bad-mouthing the business you work for (after all, you represent them and are a part of the organization).  That doesn’t mean you keep quiet when you see areas of improvement – speak up to your management and let them work as appropriate to address the issue.  Oh – and if it is not addressed the way YOU think it should be addressed, don’t take it so personally!  There are probably pieces of the puzzle you were not aware of that influenced the decision.

To know what is the right and ethical thing to do is not easy in every situation (and at times in most any strange situation).  Conflicting interests and differing points of view may be present.  For example, a coworker might ask you to send an email stating that he or she was present at the office when in fact they were not.  They may tell you they needs you to tell this “white lie” so they can claim to an insurance company that their car was in the company parking lot when it was dented.  What should you do?

There are good ways to resolve ethical questions like this.  If you are not sure what is the right thing to do, seek help (and by this I don’t mean ask each and every coworker their opinion of what to do!).  Perhaps you could ask your supervisor (and this may be appropriate since they can mediate issues and have additional resources they can lean on in strange situations).  Ultimately help can be available by consulting higher levels of management, a human resource department or even the legal branch of your company.

If you believe you have not been given thoughtful guidance, it is OK to be persistent in a tactful way while seeking advice from the proper authority within your company.  An important part of ethical behavior is being diligent in seeking to find the right outcome for any disagreement or controversy.  Just remember, if it is not the outcome YOU think it should be, don’t become Debbie Downer or Donnie Downer.  You probably are not the authority of all things ethical (I know I am not).

If you maintain your own personal integrity, you not only help your organization; you build a reputation that will reward you throughout your career.  And this is something you can control.  You can take the high road!  You will make a difference in your outlook and the way others perceive you.  Thoughts?  Leave a comment!


 

Passwords...they should be strong and secret...Passwords are a wonderful way to authenticate you – it’s a simple way of authenticating you are who you claim to be and should be able to access the information you are attempting to get at. I say it’s a simple way because there are many more complicated ways to do this! I also say it is a simple say because this is the most attacked way to gain entrance to systems by others who are not you! Simply put – passwords are how you log in to a system.

If someone can gain access to your password, they can steal your digital identity and have access to all of your information. We often take passwords for granted, forgetting that we need to craft / create / protect them well. Let’s learn more about what makes a good password and how to use them to our advantage. There are two key points to strong passwords.

First, you want passwords that are hard to guess. This means do not use passwords such as words or phrases you can find in the dictionary, your pets name, your address or your birth date.

Second, use passwords that are easy to remember. If you keep forgetting your passwords they are not very helpful.

Cyber criminals have developed programs that automate the ability to guess, or brute force attack your passwords. This means they can break into your accounts if your passwords are easy to guess. To protect yourself follow these rules for good passwords.

  • You should have at least one number in your password.
  • You should have at least one lower case and one upper case letter in your password.
  • You should have at least one symbol in your password.

But how do we a password that is easy to remember but hard to guess? At first glance this password looks very difficult. However by using the first letter of each word in a sentence, it becomes much easier to remember:

M1swb@MIH@11:25

My 1st son was born at Mary Immaculate Hospital at 11:25.

By using phrases you can pick passwords that are easy to remember and hard for people to guess.

In addition to using strong passwords, you must protect how you use and control them.

First, it is important to use different passwords for different accounts. For example, never use the same passwords for your work or bank accounts as your personal accounts, such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. This way if one of your passwords is hacked or compromised, the other accounts are still safe.

Second, never share your password with anyone else, including a family member, co-worker or supervisor. Remember, your password is a secret, if anyone else knows your password it is no longer secure. If you accidentally share your password with someone else, change it immediately.

Third, never use a public computer such as at hotels or libraries to log into a work or bank account (or other account that you don’t want compromised – like your email or LinkedIn account). Since anyone can use these computers they may be infected with a malicious code that is capturing all your keystrokes. Only log in to your various accounts on trusted computers you control.

Fourth, if you are no longer using an account, be sure to disable or delete it. That’s right, remove it, trash it, get rid of it – don’t just abandon it!

Finally, be cautious of websites that require you to answer personal questions. These questions are often used if you forget your account password and need to reset it. The problem is the answers to these questions can often be found on the Internet, or even your social networking pages. Make sure that if you answer personal questions you use only information that is not publicly known. If the website provides other reset options, such as a text message to your mobile phone, you may want to consider these alternatives.

I don’t share this to scare you – I only want you to be aware of what you need to do as you practice safe computing. I hope you examine how you craft and use your passwords and make necessary changes to keep your information free from those that want to hack!