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Bits of Advice

Secure passwords that you can remember: You have heard the message, never use the same password twice and use a password manager to help you remember all those different and complex password. But, there are times that you have to know passwords, so here are some tips on making memorable and safer passwords. Make it long, at least 12 characters, but don’t use names, places, or dictionary words, and use a mix of capitals, numbers and punctuation. One idea is to use a phrase or sentence that you can easily remember and use some pattern of letters from that sentence, like the first letter of each word and use some extra punctuation. Another is to spend some time at a random password site that lets you generate passwords that look or sound like they have words in them. Write down twenty or so, that have at least 12 or more characters, and then see which ones might stick in your memory better. Then you know which ones to use. One such place is identitysafe.norton.com and click on the “Password Generator” link at the top. Finally, consider how you might want to remember those passwords and I find that a small slip of paper with just the passwords works for me. Usually, just looking at them tells me which one goes where.

Trying to protect your privacy? It can backfire on you. It seems like the NSA will pay more attention to people who are trying to protect their privacy or secure their Internet search and use. So, if you have searched for how to encrypt your email, setting up Tor, VPNs, etc., just trust that the NSA is just that much more interested in you.

Cleaning your hard drive: This does not mean using one of those compressed air cans, although that is not a bad idea, but means organizing files within folders in your Documents folder, clearing things off your Desktop if you are not actively using them, emptying your Downloads folder and Trash, getting rid of duplicate files and using something like CCleaner to clear out caches and temporary files.

Beware of public computers, especially in hotel business centers. The Department of Homeland Security is finding that many hotel business centers are being targeted by cybercriminals to collect users login information and other important credentials. You would be safer using a computer at the Public Library.

Group email, some do’s and don’ts: Emails to a group of people present unique problems tied to navigating different personalities, controversial topics and forgetting that many people are reading what you write. When you write an email to a group of people or are posting in any public forum, remember that you don’t know all the people seeing your message. It is helpful to avoid controversy, if you want to keep the flames down, and to avoid any pointed criticism of other individuals likely to read your message. And, if you don’t make statements of “fact” that others can easily prove wrong, you will remain a trusted source for when you do make truthful statements.

In the Heat

If you have a Google account, Google is using your profile information to target ads to others in your groups of friends and such. It may not sound too bad to learn that your friends find that you “liked” or +1’d that new restaurant down the road when they are searching for hot new places to eat, but at least Google does let you opt out of providing such “opinions.” In your Google Plus settings, find your Shared Endorsement settings and turn them off. If you have difficulty finding those settings, google something like “turn off google shared endorsements.”

The downsides of subscription software or cloud software, became clear to many professional users of Adobe Creative Suite in May when Adobe’s license server was unavailable for users of their Creative Cloud suite of software for nearly a day. As more software companies are touting the benefits of cloud-based systems it is good to step back and consider if a one-day outage of their cloud would drastically hamper work. Just as with backing up your computer, there is no one perfect answer, you have to feel comfortable with how you will deal with those what-ifs of data and software not being available.

The benefits of researching “big data” like review sites is that you can spot trends in fake reviews. Recent work from Cornell finds various patterns in such fakery. Hallmarks of faking it include: similar language across many reviews, highly enthusiastic language and punctuation, highly specific brand and model references repeated through out, and, hotel reviews that focus on all the surrounding family fun activities rather than just on the hotel itself.

With Apple’s announcement of new operating systems coming in the fall, Mac users may be wondering which of their Macs and iPhones may be left in the dust. The short answer for Macs is that if you are currently running 10.8 or 10.9 then 10.10, AKA Yosemite, will run fine. That pretty much includes any Mac from 2007 model year on. With iPhones, if you have an iPhone 4, you will be out of luck, but anything newer will support iOS 8.

Assorted email scams going around this year include: the BBC notifying you that you have won in the British National Lottery, Netflix letting you know that your account has been suspended because it has been hacked but one of their paid Microsoft certified techs can help (for a few), and any of the shipping services letting you know that a package could not be delivered and that you have to download something to follow up on rescheduling delivery. Finally, there is “Microsoft” calling you to fix your hacked computer (again for a fee), they will never really do that.

One last tip, if a web site is not working the way you expect, you might try that same site in another web browser, Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, etc., are all examples of different web browsers.

May Jollies

Hidden iTunes power search still there

Not all software upgrades improve features. The iTunes store used to have a decent power search feature that would let you hone your search better and it has disappeared. Luckily, it is still available but you have to use a special link to the iTunes store to enable it. And, it has to be redone each time, but at least it is there for those special hard search times.
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Expensive Facebook mistake

You know putting private in formation on Facebook could come back and haunt you but you may want to think of the teenager who posted about her father’s workplace court settlement that was supposed to be kept secret by all parties involved. Because she posted about his “win” and getting money, the settlement was voided and he lost it all.

Is there finally an internet based deadman switch you can use when you are traveling in dangerous areas? Kitestring.io is a web service where you can create a check-in schedule for a simple text message to be sent to you and if you don’t reply by the time you have preset, your designated contacts will be notified that something might be wrong with you. It is free, but SMS or text charges may apply. Check their site, kitestring.io for their FAQ which might cover other questions you have.

Doing the two-step dance

As the whole login and password process gets more and more compromised, two-factor authentication is being touted as a fix. Two factor authentication relies on having another method to further authenticate you, usually using some one-time code somehow sent to you or generated by a device you have, to provide a dual method to prove you are the correct account user. If you have a google account, you can turn on their two factor authentication and learn how they will text you a one-time code, a second and ever changing password if you will, so that they can double-check your autheticity. The logic of two-factor authentication is that someone impersonating you may know your google account and password but won’t also have control of your phone.

Password tricks may be pointless

I am sure you have tricks for generating safe passwords, using phrases with certain letters replaced by the number that look like letters, 1 for l, 5 for s, 0 for o and so forth. Password cracking programs excel at “guessing” these kind of passwords. Other tricks might include capitalizing the first letter, ending with one or two numbers, placing your hands one key left or right, using phrases from common books like the Bible, and all of them are patterns that password crackers are catching onto. The only safe pattern is one that someone else does not use as the software for password cracking has gotten exponentially more sofisticated in the past year or so. It is to the point that memorable password, based on patterns or letter subsitutions are not good enough, you need to be using as randomly generated a password as possible, and ideally, a different one for each service that handles sensitive information.

They really are trying

Microsoft really is trying to make Windows 8 better, getting it so that the latest version is changing the way part of the UI, user interface, work depending on whether you have a touch screen or not, and how you use the mouse and keyboard. Most of us use just one or the other so you won’t notice how a touch will do one with with the title bars when you touch launch a “tile” app versus using a mouse for the same action. Microsoft’s state goal is to make certain subtle changes in the interface where they are finding that touchers expect different things to show or not show compared to mousers. Subtle is their wisdom.

April Follies

In Windows you can chain-load many programs using ninite.com and now there is a similar method for installing many applications at the same time on the Mac Head over to GetMacApps.com and don’t get scared with using the Terminal to accomplish this.

One final reminder Windows XP and Office 2003 security support ends this month, April 8th.  This means no more security updates, even if the bad guys figure something from the patches Microsoft might be issuing for Windows Vista, 7, and 8. At least, Microsoft will continue updates for Security Essentials, although you won’t be able to do a new install of SE on XP.

An email marketing company has found the sweet spot for email subject line word count and likelihood of an email being opened. Focus the subject line with between six and tens words to achieve the highest chance of your message being opened. They found that greater number of words really dropped the open rate, with fewer words suffering a bit less but still the best is 6-10.

I realize that I often toss out abbreviations and acronyms, presuming that everyone knows what they mean. A recent study by VoucherCloud shows that I should not always assume that everyone knows what HTML or gigabyte is. They found that a bit over ten percent of Americans thought HTML was an STD, translated as a website programming language being thought of as a sexually transmitted disease. Even more think a gigabyte is some kind of insect, when it is a measure of data storage. I am sure there are questions about how this survey was done, but after chuckling a bit, I realized I should be more careful when using computer shorthand. So, email me with some of those acronyms or abbreviations that you find mystifying, even when you have tried to google them and can not figure out what they really mean.

A number I would not have thought to figure out, 54. That being how many days ahead of a flight you should buy your ticket for the cheapest price. At least for USA flights, says cheapair.com, you should buy your ticket between one and three months ahead of time. This is the power of big data, they analyzed over four million tickets sales in one year to figure this out. I suspect that for travel around the major holidays you would want to book earlier, cheapair.com does point out that fares won’t drop when demand is always high for certain locations and time.

Short Cuts and Privacy

Keyboard short cuts are still king. While Windows 8 is so gesture oriented, especially when you are using a touch screen, it is still useful to know some keyboard shortcuts.

Alt+tab is the most wonderful way to switch between open programs. Ctrl+Shift+Esc will open the Task Manager which in Windows 8 can help pinpoint memory and processor hogs. Alt+F4 will quit you out of desktop programs and the newer style apps, while Ctrl+F4 will close the open windows within that program. Then there are a handful of useful Windows logo key combinations, including Window+l to lock your computer, Windows+m to minimize all windows and Windows+d to show your desktop. On web pages and in images, often you can zoom in with Ctrl and +, using Ctrl and – to zoom back out.

Time to trim your Facebook newsfeed. With Facebook now ten years old, your newsfeed my have become intimidating with its length. Unfollowing friends lets you stop seeing their news without actually unfriending them. With the increase in ads, Facebook is now letting people right click on an ad or post to take a survey that lets you rate how commercial some random posts feel. Hopefully, these surveys will tilt Facebook’s inclusions to be less commercial. And, if you are using a Facebook app on a device using data, then you should be able to turn off the new auto-play of videos.

Logging into a site with your Facebook login, rather than creating a site-specific login, gives that site all sorts of personal information like political views, personal information and other relationships, along with the same information from all your Facebook contacts. So, although it may seem easier to just use that Facebook login all over the web to avoid keeping up with all those passwords, understand that you may be over-sharing personal information.

There is a Google Calendar feature that leverages your trust of events showing up in your calendar that is useful for spammers. If you put a Google account name in the subject of a calendar event, then that event will show up in that account holders calendar. You can imagine how if you see something show up in your Google calendar you might think it legit, Google wouldn’t be placing ads there, right? No, just others taking advantage of a feature the Google engineers don’t seem interested in disabling.

Warning Signs

You may know some of the signs of possible identity theft, like unexplained charges on your credit or debit card(s), cards being declined when scanned, or sudden changes to your credit score (if you check it on a regular basis), but others may not occur to you as a warning sign. Bills and statements no longer coming to you might indicate that someone has redirected your bills. Or packages shipped to your address that you know you did not order could indicate someone ordering “in your name” but forgetting to change the default shipping address. And, weird postings from “you” on your Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or other online accounts, would indicate that someone has stolen or figured out your login for that service, made easier if you use the same login and password for all those services.

Apple seems to not be sending out security updates for OS X versions other than Mavericks. In the past, Apple has made available security updates for current, and one or two previous versions of OS X. With their currently shipping OS, known as Mavericks or 10.9, they have changed this. Since Mavericks is a free upgrade, if your Mac can support it, Apple is now only providing security updates for 10.9. Mavericks is their latest “security update.”

If you use Google services, like Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice or Circles, you have noticed a new integrated login that is Google+. Advantages include not having to sign into Gmail, then YouTube if you want to comment on a video, then Calendar, then Drive, then Voice, then whatever other service Google has bought. You get the picture. It is a way to cut down on anonymous comments and postings. The down side is that Google+ makes it much easier for Google to pull together and know what you are doing, what you are interested in, which helps them provide better marketing information to their advertisers.

A recent announcement from Google highlights how Google+ will make it easier for Google+ users, in or out of your various Circles, to email your Google+ address without having to know your full Google+ email address. It could be a wonderful feature if you have someone in a Circle but don’t actually know his or her email address. This ability will be rolled out through the first two months of this year and when it does you will get an announcement from Google about it, with instructions on how to stay in or opt out of this extended visibility. By default, according to Google, all Google+ users will be visible to each other, unless you change your “Email via Google+” setting in Gmail Settings in the General tab.

Smartphones certainly are changing what is called normal behavior. It seems more normal for people to interact through their phones when they are physically right next to each other, more normal to be recording life through the lens than the eyes and mind, more normal to over-share personal events, less normal to just be by yourself at times, more normal to let the phone do your thinking. Luckily, we can think about and even change what we want to do with our technologies and speak up for what we want normal to really mean.