Please Save Me

Please Save Me (Reprinted from the Metro Spirit 11-29-12)

 This week we find our hero crouching quietly underneath his desk.  Usually the sounds of the pre-bedtime household originate from clanking dishes set to the monotone of Shepard Smith.  Or possibly a ruckus from the kids as they pretend to do their homework while watching Phineas & Ferb.  But no, tonight is different.  Tonight brings only misery and damnation.  For tonight, the evil hounds of hell rise up and consume the last bit of life and passion that remains in a man’s soul.  Your hero closes his eyes.  Quietly, he lets out his last breath as the call reaches his ears…

“Honey, it’s Cyber Monday…there’s some great sales!  Come downstairs and pick out some pants.”

OMG – Clothes shopping over the Internet.  If there is a more painful and emotionally draining online consumer activity, I do not know what it is.

Maybe it’s different for gals.  Pinterest is loaded with outfit clippings – cute to elegant, casual to couture.  It doesn’t take long to realize that women’s clothing is more art than practicality.  Clothing connoisseurs (such as my 9-year old) look past the material to see beauty, creativity and inspiration.  The outfit accentuates one’s inner passion and shouts to the world, “I am here.  I cannot be ignored.”

But shopping for guys?  Come on…it’s pants, for crying out loud!

But, alas, our hero does need pants.  With every ounce of courage he can mustard, he pulls himself from his sanctuary and calls to his impending doom.

“Be right down, sweetie!”

Kiddie Time – Other than the shopping, holidays are a great time to spend with family.  The past Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to sit down with my girls and let them show me their favorite Internet sites.  (Note: my girls are 3rd graders, and all these sites are very family friendly.  My wife and I keep a very close watch on what sites they visit, and I strongly recommend anyone with kids do the same.)

  • Animal Jam (http://animaljam.com) – This site is created by National Geographic to help kids learn about animals and nature.  Kids become an animal and explore different regions of the world.  They can build dens and customize the look of their animal.  The basic site is free, but you get members only animals and dens with a membership.  A social aspect is also added with membership, specifically a controlled-chat capability that allows parents to control their social group and the vocabulary of their chat.  (For example, you can only chat using pre-defined phrases such as “Hello” and “Thank you”.)
  • American Girl (http://americangirl.com) – Our American Girl dolls are one of my daughters most prized toys, and it’s not difficult to understand why.  The American Girl experience provides a positive role model, and that experience carried through to their website.   Your kids can play games, download activities and learn more about their favorite Girl of the Year.  The basic site is free, but a special InnerStar University is available for girls that purchase a Just Like Me doll.
  •  IXL (http://ixl.com) – IXL is an engaging site focused on helping kids learn math.  The site provides practice math problems for elementary and middle school aged kids.  The math problems are grouped by specific math skills such as multiplication tables, patterns and number sequences.  The site tracks the amount of time spent practicing and provides the kids medals for mastering skills.  The family membership for the site is $9.95/mo, although check with you school system for classroom or school memberships.
  • Sheppard Software (http://sheppardsoftware.com) – Sheppard Software is another educational site with a wide assortment of games and activities.  While math is included, activities also include geography, science, and numerous puzzles.  The site is paid for with advertising, so it’s free to the user.  You can purchase an ad free version for $36/year.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

 

 

Nerdy Pickup Lines

Nerdy Pickup Lines (reprinted from the Metro spirit 11/22/12)

Strong P455w0rds: One of the most common questions I always get relates to passwords.  What makes a good password?  How often should I change it?  And so on.  The question is reasonable.  Every single application or website we use generally requires authentication of some sort.  Anyone that spends even a small portion of their life online will quickly discover that a significant effort is required to manage all the passwords and PINs.  However, as annoying as all passwords are, good password management is the single most important thing you can do to protect your online identity.

Mat Honan (@MAT) of Wired.com published a really good survey article on the current state of the password and many of the common scenarios by which identities are stolen.  Anyone interested in password management needs to read the article – http://bit.ly/Q41uXa  Mat gives a scenario by which Google’s two-factor authentication can be exploited.  Short version: hack the carrier account, setup forwarding for the texting request, request Google password reset – voila!

Below are common best practices (published by Mat and others) that will help keep your online identity safe.

·        Don’t reuse passwords or link accounts.  If a hacker gets one, then they have them all.

  • ·        Don’t use standard number substitutions.  Phrases like “g0dawg5” don’t cut it anymore.
  • ·        Don’t use a regular word as your password.  It needs to be random characters.  For example, use the first letter of each word in a phrase.  Iarwfgatech – I’m a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech.
  • ·        Don’t use a short password.  Passwords must be at least 8 characters.  Anything less can be cracked in a matter of seconds.
  • ·        Enable two-factor authentication using devices such as RSA tokens.  Alternatively, some providers utilize confirmation via text. 
  • ·        Give bogus answers to security questions.  Anyone can look up your mother’s maiden name (ancestry.com) or your high school (classmates.com).  Instead, use something random.  My first car?  Try, “Read the Metro Spirit!”
  • ·        Do scrub your online presence.  People search sites like Spokeo and WhitePages.com offer opt out.  Use it.
  • ·        This one is important.  Create a unique, secure email account that you only use for password recoveries.  Choose a user name that doesn’t match your real name.  And never use it for communications.

 Bottom line – Until someone comes up with something better, you need to manage your passwords. 

 Nerdy pickup line of the week:  I don’t need Apple maps to get lost in your eyes.

 I hope that you and your family has a wonderful thanksgiving!  Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

Killer Robots

Killer Robots (Reprinted from the Metro Spirit 11-8-12)

So your hero sits here on Tuesday afternoon surfing the web for the latest election predictions.  “I’m sick of this…enough with the election already…what’s going on in the tech world.”   Ironically, the headline at wired.com strikes at probably one of the most important side issues of the election and one of the strongest statements about how our society has lost touch with liberty.

7 Technologies That Will Make It Easier for the Next President to Hunt and Kill You

The all-powerful tyrant.  The plot line is probably the most common in science fiction.  Darth Vader, the Goa’uld, the Borg, Sky Net…the list goes on and on.  Each of these tyrannies possessed tools of unimaginable power to intimidate and subdue their subjects. 

Take for instance the automated robot assassin, a.k.a., the Terminator.  You just plug in your target and stand back.  The nice thing about killer robots is that there’s no need to risk a life during the process of suppressing your adversary.  It allows the tyrant to kill with impunity.  The obstacle is removed, and you don’t have to worry about the mess. 

You know, kind of like we’re doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan with our drone program.  Of course, I always thought the hardships of war (“the mess”) discouraged folks from seeking conflict.  But what do I know…

Another great sci-fi tool used by the tyrant is the tracking device.  By now, we all know that the Empire tracked the Millennium Falcon to the hidden rebel base on Yavin Four.  It’s incredible that a device could be created that allowed the Empire to track a ship through hyperspace, yet remain undetectable to those on board.  Or perhaps, the Empire figured out how to track a signal inherent with the operation of a starship.  If that were the case, the all-powerful tyrant would certainly have a way to keep track of individual locations.  They would even be able to determine when a gathering starts to form, and take measures to keep the crowd under control.

Hold on…Excuse me a second…my cell phone is ringing…

I’m guess that you are catching on by now.  The reality is that the technological tools used by science fiction tyrants exist today.  What is more worrisome, the political leadership of both parties seems more than willing to use these tools in an oppressive manner.

An example…The government, through the NSA and warrantless wiretaps, routinely collects and processes information on Americans.  (BTW – If you haven’t read the Wired article on the NSA data center program, you’ll be amazed.  Google “wired nsa data center augusta”)  Don’t even think about challenging the program…after about 4 years in the courts, last week the Supreme Court finally heard arguments in the case.  The arguments were not over the constitutionality of the surveillance.  The arguments were simply over whether citizens had a legal standing to challenge the law.  Our government’s story goes something like this:

Warrantless wiretapping is a Top Secret program.  The plaintiff cannot prove that their communications were monitored, ergo, the plaintiff cannot prove harm.  Case dismissed.

Is this the language of a government, working for the people, dedicated to the principal of individual liberty? Or is this the language of a tyrant with a lot of cool technology trying to grow his power over his subjects?

Another story line from science fiction comes into play.  Against the oppression of the all-powerful tyrant, a hero always rises.  Whether it’s Luke Skywalker, Neo, John Conner or the like, the force of good is always aligned with freedom and liberty, and pretty much always wins.  Superman fought for truth, justice and the American way.  That sounds like the team for me.

Until next time, I’m off the grid. @gregory_a_baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Legion

We Are Legion (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 11-1-12)

The highly regarded documentary on the hacktivist group Anonymous, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, is released on October 30.  The documentary, created by Brian Knappenberger, examines the history of the hacktivist movement and explores the culture of the group that consistently stands up for free speech and personal privacy, regardless of whether the threat comes from the left or the right.  As stated on the movie’s web site,

 “Whether you are a soccer mom or a member of Congress, you live in an electronic landscape that has exploded with largely unchecked intrusion and surveillance.  You are tracked by government databases while corporate advertisers are looking to buy your personal data for pennies.  In this landscape, the existence of the collective internet culture called Anonymous makes the case for anonymity.”

Consistent with Anonymous’ stand against recent attempts to restrict internet freedom of speech (e.g., PIPA and SOPA), the documentary is being released online and without copyright restrictions.  Go to www.wearelegionthedocumentary.com.  Like them or hate them, Anonymous possesses one trait that would probably resonate with our Founding Fathers – the ultimate power in society does not belong to the government or the corporations, it belongs to the people.  I’m looking forward to watching the film.

The New Big Three – For as long as I can remember, every time I’ve heard the phrase “The Big Three”, it seemed that it was always followed by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.  Well, the days of the big three automakers are over.   They’ve been replaced by a new big three:  Apple, Google and Microsoft. And in the past couple of months, the new big three have all rolled out new models to their show rooms.  Interestingly, it seems the market has finally standardized on three basic models – a 4-inch phone, a 7-inch tablet and a 10-inch tablet – and with the exception of a 7-inch Surface tablet, the Big Three are filling their lots.

Apple, of course, is still the leader with the mature product line – iPhone 5, iPad Mini and soon to be released iPad 4.  Google is next with its Android based offerings – LG-built Nexus 4, Asus-built Nexus 7 and the Google/Samsun Nexus 10.  Microsoft is the new kid – Windows Phone 8 and Suface tablet.

There are plenty of sites out there with detailed specs and review, try cnet if you interested in digging into the gory details.  At a high level, Apple still has the most mature products, although they seem to lag behind in some of the advanced features (do I dare say that Apple is beginning to feel a bit stodgy?).  Googles’ specs and feature set certainly seem to outperform Apple.  Ultimately, though it will come down to usability and apps.  The Apple App Store still enjoys a 4-to-1 advantage over Google Play in terms of the number of developers contributing to the Apple App portfolio.  Google will have a hard time catching up as long as the developers favor Apple.

The wildcard in this is Microsoft.  If they can transfer their business application portfolio to the Surface tablet as advertised, that immediately becomes a game changer, especially when it comes to the enterprise.  Businesses and business application developers could very quickly drop the iPad.  One caveat…it just has to work.

Sandy – BTW, if you haven’t seen any of the pictures of Sandy from space, get on line and take a look.  It was quite an impressive storm.  Also, one small footnote regarding Sandy…holders of stock options in Facebook had to wait 6 months before they could sell their shares.  So what happened on the first day they could sell their share?  Stock market closed due to the weather.  Bummer.

I hope to see you at the Innovation Festival and Hackathon this weekend!  Until next time, I’m off the grid. @gregory_a_baker