’11 Resolutions

  1. Learn a programming language, it sounds scary or unneeded but it can be fun.
    http://scratch.mit.edu/ or http://sketchup.google.com/ might get you going. Scratch is fun as you are dragging around actions element to make a “story” but what you are really doing is called Object Oriented Programming, a common programming “style.”
  2. Work on better ergonomics, keyboard and mouse, move every 15 min
    consider a trackball, Logitech and Microsoft make some, consider that you will have to use it for a few days and don’t be afraid to return it and try a different type.
  3. Stop computer use right before bed, late night use of active light sources, things like a computer screen or even an iPad, upsets the body’s ability to go to sleep.
  4. Decrease email interruptions, turn off alert sound, switch to 30 min check
    Most of us can not help seeing what just came in when we hear the new message chime but checking email frequently is a great way to avoid being productive. Turn off the chime, change the checking interval or even close the email program to keep focused.
  5. Change passwords, use easy remember system or encrypted keychain
    Since web site do seem to get hacked and people don’t like to use different passwords, it would make sense to use different passwords on different sites. Since we don’t like to do that, then changing them all on a regular basis might be good. Or use a password storing program to keep track of the different ones so that you don’t fall prey to the “One Ring to rule them all” scenario.
    See “Passwords, where to keep them”
    http://scobie.net/index.php/2010/02/16/passwords-where-to-keep-them/
  6. Use less paper and ink, light printing, fonts with less ink
    Find out how to use the draft mode and black ink only on your color printer. And, if you are really trying to cut down ink, take a look at Ecofont
    http://www.ecofont.com/en/products/green/font/download-the-ink-saving-font.html
    or the study by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay that convinced them to change to Century Gothic
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/campus-overload/2010/03/font_change_could_save_money_p.html
  7. Check UPS function, replace if tripped and make sure correctly set up
    UPSes, uninterruptible power supplies, a.k.a. battery back ups, do wear out as they get used or triggered. Also, make sure you don’t use them as an easy plug in place for a space heater, the battery will die almost faster than you can turn the heater back off. Most all UPSes have a surge-protect only side and a batter+surge-protect side, use the battery+ side only for your computer and monitor, use the other side for printers and such. And, try not to plug extension cords into a UPS and avoid plugging the UPS into an extension.
  8. Verify backups actually have what you want
    Before you need to rely on your backup, take a little time to see if you can find something you did last week. If you can’t figure out how to recover your data, try learning it before you need it in a panic.
  9. Neaten up cords and “boxes” with Velcro, zip-ties, staple gun, boxes, ikea hacks
    Get the heavy duty Velcro and you can stick all of those extra “boxes” and power cords to the side, back, or underside of whatever you use as your computer desk. Use zip ties and a staple gun to make loose loops to corral all of the cables, tacking them to the back or underside of the desk. If you like Ikea, take a look at some Ikea hacks at
    http://lifehacker.com/5711774/hack-your-way-through-the-ikea-catalog-this-weekend
  10. Recycle and dispose of computer, other electronics
    In this area, Charlotte Street Computers will accept old computers and such to recycle.  They are not supposed to be put in the trash.
    http://ecycleme.com/

iPad-netbook debate

Might you be in the market for something smaller than a traditional laptop? Boy, the iPad sure looks great, something simple like a flat sheet of paper and you just use your fingers to do all the work, no keyboard needed. But, wait you say, you need something with USB ports so that you can print and easily transfer your pictures to your computer? Oh, and you didn’t really want to have another computer around with iTunes to actually manage some of the transfers that the iPad needs? Yes, these are some of the issues that I am dealing with in trying to make a decision between an iPad and a netbook computer.

iPad

Pro: nice reading size, instant on, finer gestures control, easy iTunes store access, easy to change orientation (vertical for reading, horizontal for video), sleek look, light weight.

Con: not cheap, no USB, stuck with iPad or iPhone apps if you want other software, screen based keyboard not fast for touch typists, have to have computer with iTunes to manage content transfer.

Netbook computer

Pro: just a small laptop so touch typists can be happy (once you get used to the slightly smaller keyboard), usually two USB ports you can attach printers/camera/etc., no need for netbook specific software, usually cheaper than iPad, folds up to protect screen, with hard drive have greater storage capacity.

Con: CD/DVD not built-in (but isn’t on iPad either), screen can’t be rotated to best suite what you are viewing, sometimes almost a pound heavier than an iPad, not cool as an iPad.

So, which do I lean toward when I am rationally thinking about my needs? The netbook should be my choice, and therein you hear which one I really want, the iPad. So, I guess I have to buy some more lottery tickets.

Daily Reads

I am always interested in what people read on a daily basis on the web so here is what I read and why I read it. I am sure you won’t be surprised by its slant towards the geeky.

slashdot.org

One of the first geek oriented sites to pull together stories submitted by the community, still coming up with bits from way in left field.

lifehacker.com

Part of the gawker media and blog network, I pay attention to some of the life productivity tips it offers, with a heavy slant to computer software tricks that might even someday help me. Scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to explore some of the other gawker sites

good.is

I think of good.is as my way to keep my hope alive that people are still doing good in this world. Topics range across action, business, cities, culture, design, education, environment, food, health, media, politics, technology, and transportation. I am not sure how to summarize what good.is, other than I keep finding news bits that I would not have otherwise found.

krebsonsecurity.com

My way of following one take on different security threats.

news.google.com

Saying it is just a news aggregator is underplaying its value. Rather than try to explain the value to me of Google News, here is their take.

“Our articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online. We also rank based on certain characteristics of news content such as freshness, location, relevance and diversity. As a result, stories are sorted without regard to political viewpoint or ideology and you can choose from a wide variety of perspectives on any given story. <http://news.google.com/intl/en_us/about_google_news.html>

I love seeing how different media outlets handle a particular story and Google News makes it really easy to read other’s points of view

arstechnica.com

Yes, another tech news site but they often go beyond just a few paragraphs in analyzing tech news. And, many of the reader comments are just as instructive as the articles.

You may have noticed that all of these (except krebsonsecurity.com) aggregate information and news from other sources. That is how I find interesting things; it is like hearing what library books your friends are reading.

And, then there are all those podcasts to listen to <Grin>.

Getting offline after death

And, now for something that we don’t think about that much with the internet. planning for what happens to our virtual selves after death, what to do with all of our virtual affairs.

There are at least two parts to this, the first one is to have a list of all the logins and passwords for services you use. This means, email, banks, any and all payment sites, ebay, paypal, google accounts and other accounts, facebook, twitter, and don’t forget to include all of those accounts you have to make just to read or post on certain sites. Once you have this list, go through it and figure out which accounts you don’t care about, the ones that you may not want anyone to know about and strike them off the list. All of the remaining ones you should make a list of in a secure place like a safety deposit box and/or your lawyer who has possession of your will.

Now, comes the second part, you figuring out for all of your social networking accounts, how you want your death announced. If you are active in a group online, you don’t want them left wondering about why you all of a sudden stopped participating. Of course, you don’t have to set up such “memorials” for banks and such, but still have those passwords available.

And, then the fun part, actually getting the accounts terminated. Just as you probably are not even thinking about the need for this topic, many services have also ignored what they might have to do. Twitter and Facebook have actually worked out policies for what they will do with your account, but many others require an amazing amount of paper work, photo ids and account particulars, that you will find it easier to have your executor just login as you and terminate or handle your account in the way you dictate. Having a lawyer, rather than a family member, handle this part may be better as you won’t have to worry about what this person might find in some of your accounts. About the accounts you don’t want anyone to know about ever, you should find out how to clear out all your account information so that it can not be sold out later as online companies consolidate and change their terms of service.

The bottom line is to at least start with a complete list of all your online logins and passwords so that your virtual affairs can also be wound up as you would wish.

Keeping it all up to date and clean in Windows

Here is the challenge, you know you are supposed to keep all your software up to date, you have come to realize that Microsoft Windows will download updates in the background and even force you to install the important ones when you shut down the computer, but what about all of the other things you have installed on your computer?

There is an answer, but it is not perfect, Secunia Personal Security Inspector <http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/> is software that you can install to check the current version status of many common programs to let you know whether there are known security flaws that have been patched with available updates. And, it will let you know what to download and how to update what needs updating. The biggest downside to PSI is that you can not just tell it to update everything it finds. Which, some would say is good, it lets them keep the tried and true versions of certain software. At least, you will now know what is out-of-date.

And, to keep Windows cleaner, for help in removing many of the temporary and/or unneeded files that build up over time as you use your web browser you can install CCleaner <http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner>.

The Mac equivalent for CCleaner might be considered Onyx <http://www.titanium.free.fr/download.php> and make sure you download the correct one for your version of OS X.

The Mac equivalent for Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector has not been produced, at least not unless you would like to help “test” AppFresh from Aurora <http://metaquark.de/blog/appfresh/>. I almost hesitate to mention it, but someone will want to know and there it is.

Bottom line is that software updates are there for a reason, not to just make your life harder, but in many cases to fix or patch a flaw that someone else has found. If you are working or playing on the Internet, using the Web and such, you can make things a bit safer by applying updates as they come in.

Oh, and if all of this makes your head spin, at least back up everything you would not want to loose if your computer crashes, Actually, you should focus on that first. Think of how much you would pay someone to bring back your pictures, for example, and then think of spending some of that money now so you won’t have to later.

Playing it safe on public wifi networks

Public wifi networks are great when they are free, like they now are at Starbucks, but you should practice some basic safety.

Most public wifi networks do not use encryption passwords to get on, it makes it easier for the baristas and cashiers who don’t have to troubleshoot why the password isn’t working on your laptop. However, that also means that what you type into any web browser or send with your email program is going over the air in plain English, easy enough for others to pick up. So, rule one, above all rules, take a second to think about what you are doing, others may be looking over your cyber shoulder.

  1. Turn off file sharing.
  2. Turn on your firewall.
  3. Any website you are at that contains private information, or where you have to type in a password, should be using SSL. That means that the beginning of the web address is https://www.somewhere.com/ , note the “s” at the end of http. Pay attention to how you read your email, for example Gmail uses SSL all the time, not just for the login, which means that reading your emails is still safe from prying eyes.
  4. Use a VPN, something that sounds high tech and would only be of use if you are connecting to another network at work. And, then you may have it already set up. You might want to use that VPN and then from the “work” computer do your web surfing and other email.
  5. Turn off your wifi when you are not using it, if it off nothing can get you, right?