Category Archives: Technology

Plan B tested the hard way!

Well, the disaster happened! My main desktop computer failed spectacularly last week. It was working normally, just playing music, and as I was walking past it, suddenly there was a very loud

BUZZZAAAAP!

sound, accompanied by a smell of ozone and burning insulation, and it was utterly dead. I knew I was in deep trouble when I pushed the power button, and a fat angry spark jumped behind the button.

Now, I do a lot of business online, so not having a computer is out of the question. I immediately deployed my laptop as a stand-in while I started to diagnose the desktop. Of course, just having a spare computer isn’t much help if you can’t access your files, or bookmarks, or print, or find your passwords… So, here’s where I find out if my Plan B is adequate. Several things I had in place allowed me to keep working during the repairs on the desktop:

Network drive backup: I have a free program called Syncback that backs up my downloads, documents, etc. every few hours to my network drive. Many routers (not usually the ones the ISP provides) have a USB port for an external drive that can be used for backup over the network, where it can be accessed by any other device on the same network. There are also network-ready hard drives. The files I needed were right there, in the same folder structure.

I also have online backup, but local backup is almost always faster and less hassle, so I recommend both. The online backup is a last-chance thing in case your house burns down or someone steals all your equipment.

Network printer: Same deal here. A printer on the network can be accessed by any device on the same network, making it easy to transition without having to hook up additional cables. All the major printer manufacturers now make network-capable printers for home and Small Business users.

Dropbox: I can’t recommend Dropbox enough. It’s useful for a whole range of conveniences. Dropbox’s main function, in case you’re not familiar with it, is to synchronize files across several computers. If you have the app installed, anything you put in your Dropbox folder will automagically appear – and update – in the Dropbox folder of your other computers. When I needed to update a document while the desktop was down, I pulled it from my backup and put it in the Dropbox folder so I would have the latest version when my desktop was again operational.

Firefox sync and others: All the major browsers have some sort of sync function. I use Firefox almost exclusively, but Chrome and even Internet Explorer and Edge also have means of synchronizing bookmarks across devices. Obviously, you must be signed on in the respective browsers before this will work. Firefox has it’s own sign-in, Chrome uses your Google credentials, IE and Edge use Microsoft credentials.

Password Safe: Sitting inconspicuously in my Documents folder is my Password Safe, renamed with a boring name for additional security. I don’t really trust those online password managers; they do add a lot of convenience, but I’m leery of letting an online service manage something that important. Since I had a backup of the database, accessing my passwords from my laptop was easy, too. By the way, Password Safe works on all versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux, plus Android and IOS.

Backup computer: I already had a laptop on hand that I immediately put into service. If you can’t go more than a day without a computer, I highly recommend you have such a backup, configured with your network printer and your most-used programs. While I did have to install a couple of programs in my laptop, for the most part it was ready to step into the gap. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one; it just has to be capable of doing the vital chores.

With the use of this setup, I was able to keep going and get all the important stuff done despite the catastrophe!

So, what happened to the desktop?

Apparently, the power supply failed gloriously, and took the motherboard and processor with it. The first thing I did while waiting for parts was pull the hard drives out and test them; there are plenty of adapters that will turn an internal hard drive into a USB drive, for diagnostic or other purposes. I find mine useful for recovering data from my customer’s failed machines. The hard drives (all three of them) were undamaged, saving me a great deal of grief. If they had failed, my backup is adequate for such things, but restoring all that data is a hassle.

Since I had no way to test the RAM and processor without a good motherboard, it wasn’t until I installed the new power supply and motherboard that I determined that the RAM was OK, but the CPU had bought the farm. Once those three parts were replaced, the machine came to life again.

I wasn’t quite out of the woods yet, though.

All recent versions of Windows will revert to an un-activated state after major hardware changes, particularly the motherboard. The newest versions of Windows 10 go farther; they will revert even if the replacement is identical to the original. Last year’s update (Version 1607) had a convenient feature that allowed easy re-activation if the user had signed in with a Microsoft account. I had never done that on this machine, since I resist such heavy-handedness. I prefer all my credentials to be local, thanks. Fortunately, an online chat session with a Microsoft rep, and having my original product key I’d upgraded from, got that sorted out as well. So now I’m completely back, and hoping I don’t have any more disasters like that for a while!

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It’s Dead, Jim!

2016 marks the end of some of the most long-lasting names and devices in the technology world. We sadly mark the passing of:

  • Motorola: The company has had problems in the past several years, was sold twice, and as of 2016, the name no longer exists. Motorola had a long run, having invented the car radio (Hence the name), in 1930, then quickly moving on to the first walkie-talkie in 1940, the car phone in 1946, and the first commercial cell phone in 1983. They also, incidentally, provided the radio gear that allowed NASA astronauts to communicate from the Moon.
  • iPhone headphone jack: Probably in order to make their phones thinner, sleeker, lighter, and trendier, Apple has in their infinite wisdom eliminated the headphone jack from the latest iPhone, leaving users with no choice other than Bluetooth headphones, which cost a lot more and are not nearly as idiot-proof as wired headphones. Sigh.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Marketing a product that spontaneously catches fire is not too good for business, but, again, it has a lot to do with making products that emphasize trendiness over usability. If only the Galaxy Note 7 had a removable battery (A feature I insist upon in a phone), the problem could have been taken care of much more easily. But removable batteries make the phone thicker, heavier, and not quite so “cool,” so they’re out.
  • VCRs: It took 50 years, but they finally managed to kill the VCR. I pity all those folks with stuff on videotape that isn’t, and never will be, available on DVD.
  • Hoverboards: Cheap Chinese quality control and Lithium-Ion batteries don’t mix well, especially at the bleeding edge of battery capacity, when they have to be made thinner and with tighter tolerances than ever before. See Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
  • Google Picasa: My all-time favorite photo organizing program. The good news is, it still works, if you already have it; it just won’t be updated or downloaded anymore.

Well, there you have it. We’ll just have to struggle along somehow without these icons of the technology world.

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Your Child’s Digital friend?

Last year, Mattel came up with a toy called Hello Barbie, which was advertised as a toy a child could have conversations with. It wasn’t long before people discovered it could be hacked.

Most of the time, such hacking is by folks who want to find out how something works, and is essentially harmless. The problem with Hello Barbie was that the company that made the voice processing software had the doll sending recordings of the conversations to them over the internet.

This raised some nasty privacy concerns. Toy Talk, the company providing the voice module, says the recordings are used only to refine their voice processing service. The problem is, how do we know that is all that’s happening??

Now this year, a company called Genesis Toys is marketing a doll for girls called My Friend Cayla, and a similar product for boys called iQue, that convert a child’s voice to text and send it… somewhere to be processed so the doll can respond.

I don’t know about you, but this feels creepy! What happens if that database is compromised? The child trusts that doll and probably tells it all kinds of personal things. This could easily become a nightmare.

Perhaps an even more important question is: Why is there a market for such toys at all? Don’t children have flesh-and-blood friends anymore? Isn’t it much more fun to talk with a real person? Or is that too “messy,” because the real person might say something that hurts the child’s feelings? Are we going to raise an entire generation of children who never learned to interact with other humans? This could not possibly end well in my opinion, but you decide if your child or grandchild should have something like this…

https://bobsullivan.net/cybercrime/new-toy-dolls-can-spy-on-your-kids-and-let-strangers-hear-their-conversations-groups-allege-ringing-internet-of-toys-alarm/?utm_source=BobSullivan.net&utm_campaign=a05a14de30-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_edc212b71b-a05a14de30-198025153

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Distributed Denial of Service

bot·net
ˈbätˌnet/

noun

Computing
noun: botnet; plural noun: botnets
  1. a network of private computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge, e.g., to send spam messages. Combination of the words “Robot” and “network.”

If you noticed a disruption of the internet last week, it was due to a virus that created a botnet of such things as internet-connected video cameras and other “Internet of Things” (ioT) devices. many of these devices have weak security at best, and to make things worse, the security is hard-wired into them, making it impossible to change without a redesign.

When an outside, malicious force takes control of these devices, they can then be aimed like a laser at whatever server is the target of the hacker’s wrath. In this case, something like 500,000 devices were compromised. When that many devices start sending data to one target, the target gets completely overwhelmed, and if it’s not completely knocked offline, becomes glacially slow in the attempt to deal with such an abnormal volume of traffic. This is what is known as a Distributed denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

This one of the many reasons I’m not too thrilled with the direction technology is going. I’m afraid it will not only make us vulnerable, but it may make us lazy and stupid as well.

As Gerald Weinberg said, “If builders built houses the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization.”

https://thegizmologist.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/rise-of-the-machines/

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3134056/hacking/an-iot-botnet-is-partly-behind-fridays-massive-ddos-attack.html#tk.rss_all

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Facebook – Risk and Reward

I don’t use Facebook. (I hear a gasp of disbelief!) Why not? I can’t think of a good reason to. I prefer to do my “social networking” face-to-face. The problem with Facebook and other such sites is that whatever you put on the internet is there forever, for anybody who wants to look – not just your “friends.” This is why criminals have been caught when they gloated on Facebook, homeowners have been burglarized when they posted their vacation plans, wives have discovered their husband’s affairs, and employees have been fired over that “whimsical” photo of them smoking dope that they forgot about. Can you say “Oversharing?”

And, just in case you’ve run out of things to worry about, a new study finds that people who use social networks are four times as likely to have their identity stolen! Now, as the statisticians are fond of saying, “Correlation does not equal causation.” What that means in English is we don’t know if these people had their identity stolen because they use social networks, or if their social network use is a symptom of something else they do that puts them at risk.

do know that the internet has a tendency to encourage people to share the most intimate details of their lives online, apparently never realizing the dangers when their dates of birth, addresses, mother’s maiden name, schools, previous addresses, sometimes even their social security numbers, are out there for anybody to find. And that’s even without the possibility – make that probability – of a data breach. You might also consider who you keep as a “friend.” Treating Facebook as a popularity contest is only going to make you more vulnerable.

Nobody but your closest family needs to know such things as your favorite color or your first pet’s name. The only way to mitigate the risk is think twice anytime you’re asked for personal identity information – even if a police officer asks you for your social security number, you can politely decline. Especially if a police officer asks you for a DNA sample! Yes, it’s been happening, to people not charged with any crime, because certain government agencies just can’t seem to collect enough data to satisfy them, Constitution be damned!

By the way, don’t forget to vote on November 8th. Your question should be, “Do I want more of the same, or am I willing to chance something different?” Personally, I think “More of the same” will destroy this country.

Yes, using more social networks raises your risk of ID theft — a lot, says ID Analytics.

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Hacking a Pacemaker??

 Connectivity equals vulnerability.

What does that mean? It means that the more ways a device can connect to the outside world (interface), the more vulnerabilities it has to unauthorized access. As an analogy, you have very little chance of being hit by a bus if you stay in your house. But you can’t stay in your house forever. The problem then becomes managing the risk/reward equation.

Medical devices usually have a very favorable risk/reward scenario: They unquestionably save lives – most of the time. But, as with everything else in our increasingly complex world, people want them to be wirelessly connected for convenience.

This is particularly important for implanted medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps. Cutting a patient open every time you need to change the settings is painful, expensive, and dangerous, so modern implantable devices use some sort of wireless system. The doctor simply uploads new software to the device in a matter of minutes without bloodshed.

But… What happens if someone else gains access to the device? Someone with nefarious intent? Like many other devices, these things can be vulnerable to outside connections, and, once inside, it’s possible to alter them, with conceivably fatal consequences.

As mentioned in a previous post about the so-called “Internet of Things,” many of these products have gaping security holes, sometimes with no way to update them short of getting a new device. The code they run on is usually proprietary, which means it’s very difficult for security researchers to tease out problems – and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act might even make it illegal!

Former Vice President Dick Cheney even had the wireless capability on his pacemaker disabled to forestall a possible attack of this sort.

Unfortunately, Barnaby Jack, one of the primary researchers into these vulnerabilities suddenly died in 2013, under slightly mysterious circumstances. Of course, conspiracy theories abound. Hopefully, others will pick up where he left off.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/20/us/dick-cheney-gupta-interview/

Go Ahead, Hackers. Break My Heart

http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2012/12/06/yes-you-can-hack-a-pacemaker-and-other-medical-devices-too/#25cb957813e0

http://www.komando.com/happening-now/371417/pacemaker-hacking-fears-rise-based-on-critical-research/all

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Speak Up!

Reading online reviews is a great way – most of the time – to help with the decision-making process when purchasing a product or service.

Some merchants, however, really take it personally when someone posts a negative review. Some even have, buried deep within their terms of service (Who reads those??), a so-called non-disparagement agreement. What does that mean? It means that if you bad-mouth the product or service, they could sue you for breach of contract.

Even if the review in question is not false or defamatory (“The phone didn’t really live up to my expectations…”), this could still happen. The dictionary defines disparagement as “To bring discredit or reproach upon; to lower in credit or esteem.” That could be interpreted as virtually anything other than wholehearted praise!

A couple recently was dissatisfied with a pet-sitting service and aired their complaint on Yelp. The company first sent them a cease-and-desist letter, and when the couple refused to take down the review, the company sued.

This sort of suit is called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), used to stifle such complaints. This could be viewed as curtailing freedom of speech, however, some courts have ruled that if you accept the agreement (which you probably haven’t read!), you are voluntarily waiving your first amendment rights.

Yet another reason to read stuff carefully before you sign or click that “Accept” button!

http://www.jaburgwilk.com/news-publications/what-is-a-non-disparagement-clause-and-why-you-may-not-want-to-sign-one

Yelp review cost this man $1 million

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