Native Advertising

August 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Economoney, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology | Leave a comment

There’s a nasty trend developing in the media. The lack of income from on-line advertising for newspapers lead to a new approach known as “native advertising”. Basically it’s advertising presented like, and mixed in with, real news stories. While these are supposedly labelled, that’s the fine print. It’s presented to look like news.

This has been much more successful so now it’s migrating into print, which is desperate to increase revenue. I’m also seeing local papers sell increasingly large sections of their front page to advertising. Sometimes, even the entire front page. How long before that formatting looks more like news?

This trend is not confined to small papers but is being adopted by Time, The New York Times and other supposedly reliable new sources. The separation between “church and state”, between the business and editorial side? Discarded as an outmoded concept. Are they trying to accelerate their demise?

Why is this an issue? What is news if it’s run by advertisers? Infotainment at best. It certainly doesn’t lead to an informed public, which is rather important for a democracy to function properly.

The following clip is from John Oliver, a comedy show, but they cover the situation rather well. Once again, comedy becomes the way to say things we may not otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc

A Really Simple Web Site

August 7, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Blogs, Computers, Internet, Software, Web Design | 1 Comment

I’ve written much here on web design and set-up. If you have a business or service, you really do want to have a web presence. Otherwise, someone searching you on-line will get a blank or someone else. Networking by posting your email address on other web sites will bring you more spam than contacts. But posting your web address just brings the contacts. A nice, customized interactive blog with regular updates would be good but we don’t all have the time or inclination for that.

But you can have a simple, free on-line brochure/ business card. And it can be done quickly.

Firstly, you need a site. Your best choice long-term is a free WordPress.com blog. This can easily be migrated to a hosted site later if you decide to grow your presence. And it doesn’t have to be a blog. Most small sites today use blog technology, even when they don’t have a blog. It’s so much easier and feature-rich to set up.

Setting up a free blog (like this one) takes just a few minutes. This is just the basics:
1) go to WordPress.com and choose a blog name. On a free blog this is in the format
NAME.wordpress.com. Use your name or your service name or some easy version thereof.
2) Register for an account with them. They’ll send a confirming email. (they may ask you to do this first, then choose a name)
3) Log into your new blog at your new address. This will bring you into the Admin “Dashboard” with all the settings.
4) In Appearances, Themes, choose and activate one of the themes (the look) they supply. The one here is the Pool theme as you’ll see at the bottom – same on all free blogs if you see a layout you like. This can easily be changed and tuned here later.
5) Go into Posts, All Posts and edit the default Welcome post. This is like writing an email. Put in a short intro and how to reach you.
Do not post your email address directly. This will invite tons of spam.

You now have a live web site for your offering.

6) Next you need a contact form. Free WordPress doesn’t supply that so go to Contactify.com and sign up for a free account. Go back to edit your post above and add some text like “Contact Me” and use the special link from Contactify. (use the Link button to add a link to selected text) Your readers will click the link, fill in a small form and the result will come to your email account.

Now you have an official web presence and online business card. Simple.

When you have a few minutes later, you can explore other features like creating Home and About Pages, tweaking your chosen theme, changing the sidebar widgets around, and lots more. But that can be done any time. You can also get a little more professional by getting your own domain name for a dozen dollars a year. (as in NAME.com)

Molly Greene takes this process a little further with more details in her article here. WordPress has guides like this one.

There is also tons of on-line help for WordPress. But make sure you’re looking at WP.com support. Many sites are talking about WordPress.org, the version you host and configure. This is what you can migrate to later if you want. It’s much more customizable and modular but also more complex. Yet once familiar with WordPress, you can take that learning with you.

This blog you’re reading is a free blog I began in 2007.  I use the above Contactify service on my About page. My other blog is hosted, far more customized, and far more capable – it has a newsletter, ecommerce, and other features. It began the same as this one.

Enjoy!
David

Android Security

July 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | Leave a comment

I’ve noticed that a lot of smart-phone users don’t take their security as seriously as they do on Windows machines. They’re happy to surf the web without virus protection and to install software with rather appalling permissions. I’ve seen simple games wanting access to your call history, data, identity, location and more – yet they’re recommended by the Play store. Clearly, their standards are not mine.

Android has become the most widely used OS in the world. It dominates mobile devices. So it’s become a target for trouble. And for the modern trend of collecting user info and selling it.

Fred Langa recently wrote a good overview of some of the apps you might find useful for Android security. He reviews AV suites, Password management, device recovery, wiping, and VPNs.

I’ve been surprised how robust the Android security suites have become. Fred mentions Lookout, which I’m not familiar with. He runs through it’s features, making it a good comparison point for other suites. He also notes that there is some garbage posing as security software – you do want software you can trust. I’ve been using ESET Antivirus for some time on my PC’s and have been very happy with it. So it’s a natural that I checked out ESET’s Android offering. I was surprised to discover they were actually underselling it on the web site.

The app walks you through setting up each section as you choose to activate that feature set. If it recommends setting changes, it gives you easy access to those settings. I didn’t have a need for ‘Call and SMS Blocking‘ but the rest of it was rich with features I found useful.

When I tried to register on the web site for an anti-theft account prior, it failed. But when I registered through the app, it worked fine. Not sure why they have a register option on the web site when its the device that has to register. I was then able to test the anti-theft features on-line. It did catch a picture of me and did show the phones location within about 5 meters. (that’s controlled by the area and phones GPS) If you’re prone to leave your phone places, that can be really handy. You can also text commands much as Fred describes in the article, like locking the phone, have it make a loud noise, and so forth.

Most satisfying to me was the ‘Security Audit‘ feature as I’d become concerned about the behaviour of some apps and I wasn’t as informed when setting the phone up. Indeed, it found one of the games had infection issues through it’s advertising. And a few apps had stepped over reasonable permission bounds. ESET takes you right to the apps permissions and uninstall if you need it.

The free version has somewhat reduced features but is fully functional. It’s clear in the app which parts you’re test-driving during the 30 day free trial. Scroll down the page here to see a comparison chart of the differences.

Premium ESET is currently on sale for $10/ year, $15 for 2. From Fred’s article, $15/yr seems typical for paid versions, though Lookout is $30. ESET is usually in the middle.

More
If you travel a lot or use public hot spots, a VPN can much improve security – especially if you need to do some banking or some such. Fred reviews some of those options. Device recovery and system wiping tools are included in some AV suites, like the above, but he also suggests stand alone ones if that’s needed.

Finally, Password management. For this, you want a tool that’s useful both on your PCs and mobile. Fred suggests several which basically mean having 2 or more password stores.  Not very efficient to have different passwords in different places – the one you need is the one that will be stored somewhere else.

As readers here know, I’m a fan of LastPass, a free PC password manager. The premium version, for $12 a year, adds many other features including mobile access to your password vault from any device. It also allows you to separate work and home passwords, create family shared ones, and adds enterprise tools.

Safe surfing, wherever you are.
David

Troubles in the CASL

July 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Software | 3 Comments

Recently in Canada, a lot of small businesses and charities have been quite concerned. On July 1, new anti-spam legislation came into effect here. Many small organizations depend on low-cost messaging services to communicate and advertise. A few have been a little sloppy about their lists.

While anti-spam legislation is a good idea, when they define it with terms like “electronic address”, there are issues. Everything on the Internet has an electronic address. Also, very little spam originates from where the legislation will have any effect. Estimates I’ve seen suggest 2%.

The main thing you need to understand is that CASL is mostly about email, though Instant Messaging and SMS are included. It’s about sending directly to a person’s electronic address, typically to many such at a time.

If you’re doing so without their documented consent through some sort of relationship, this is now spamming and subject to fines. (see the implicit/ explicit summary below) Thus, you want to ensure your newsletter/ emailing list is fully Opt-in. If you’ve been using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact, they will normally do a confirmed or double Opt-in. The end user enters an email address on-line or clicks a link and the system sends them an email to confirm – click and done. Even many blogs comment subscriptions double-confirm now (on WordPress).

However, if you’ve manually entered peoples email addresses or your list is mostly imported, then you will want to ask your subscribers to re-verify with a new Opt-in. You’ve probably seen a bunch of such emails yourself. Constant Contact handily offers a “CASL Template” for doing so. The user clicks the email link and it’s done. (though you’ll need to edit the Contacts, Signup Tools, Change of Interest email as that’s what they’ve used for an email post-confirmation – just make the message more generic.) Constant Contact has said they’ll be exposing the confirmed data in reports later this month. Managing will thus be easy.

With Constant Contact, you may also wish to update your email headers to add the Confirmation option to all emails as well.

So far MailChimp has offered an overview article on the subject. That makes setting up a confirmation email much more involved, not to mention managing the results. MadMimi just refers to the US CAN SPAM law with a link to the CASL site. Even less helpful.

If you’re emailing large groups from your home computer with no unsubscribe link and no opt-in routine, you’re falling further and further outside the law in N. America. Not such a cheap option if you get fined. If your list is under 2,000 in size and you don’t send a ton of messages, MailChimp and MadMimi are both free. I’d suggest that after you import your list, your first order of business will be to send a verification email to get everyone to opt in. Or you drop them.

You also then get all the advantages of reporting, subscription management and so forth. Much easier to manage. And the templates help you to easily design professional looking messages.

All of this will ensure your Contact list is compliant. It may also save you a bit of money as you purge email addresses that have gone stale – just look at your Open vs Send rates. Many abandon free accounts over time. And some ISP’s no longer bounce stale addresses as it can lead to them getting on spam lists, ironically.

Updates that you post on your blog, Twitter or Facebook are sent to yourself. People who then wish to partake of these updates can then choose to view or subscribe. No worries there, in spite of some comments in the news. CASL does not apply.

EasyDNS has offered an excellent summary of implicit and explicit consent and why sending an unsubscribe reminder (Opt Out) won’t cut it.

Also note that you have time. The government does not plan to enforce this for 3 years. But don’t wait – it will take time to herd your cats and you don’t want to wander onto someone’s radar meantime.

Finally, here’s a review of a CRTC presentation on the topic that should ease some minds. But it also highlights the vague language in the legislation. It’s also notable it covers unauthorized software installs but is again a little vague on meaning.

If you have any experience dealing with emailing services we’d be interested in hearing how well they supported you with CASL.
David

UPDATE – see comments

Network Media Centre

June 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Posted in Computers, Hardware, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Technology | Leave a comment

In recent years, how we consume media has changed markedly. Video rentals stores have mostly died. Some have cancelled their cable service. Flat screen TV’s, then Smart TV’s (with built-in computers) have become common. On-line media sources as well. Movies now offer digital copies and so on.

If you mainly get your services from online sources like Netflix and Hulu, then you want a Smart TV or attached media box with a wireless keyboard and a smart remote like LG’s Magic Remote. (a standard TV remote is near useless for web browsing and such)

But if your main source is local digital media, like your movie, photo and music collections, you need a local storage solution. It might seem like hooking your computer up to your TV is a great idea, but that’s not likely to be convenient for how you normally use it. It will also create issues with backup sizes. Plus, I’ve found that TV media serving software tends to bog your computer and doesn’t update changes reliably.

Custom-building a PC as a media server may seem like a great idea, but the form factor and energy consumption are not as good. And PC’s need all those fricking updates.

Your better solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that includes a media server. These are energy efficient boxes designed for handling large media files. They’re somewhat similar to an external hard drive except they plug into your network (typically the router) and contain a small computer that allows them to handle several drives. They’re a natural for the job.

You do need to check it will work for your setup though – will it hold drives large enough for your growing media collection? And does it have the right kind of media server for your TV? Typically a DLNS is supported by Smart TV’s but do check yours. Can your TV even connect to a network? Smart TV’s do.

In my own case, I have an LG Smart TV and their Magic remote.

Normally with a NAS, the drives are set up to appear as a single massive drive or are mirrored in pairs. A mirrored drive creates an immediate backup of everything that’s on the main drive. This is a common practice on servers. You get half the available space but a perfect backup.

Buying a NAS, they don’t typically come with drives pre-installed – you choose your own. The exception would be some home offerings like HP’s My Cloud models. They’re more limited and pricey but get good reviews. The reviews oddly seem to compare wildly different types of NAS (with huge variations in price) rather than separating out home and business systems. Ideally, you get matching drives – especially if you’re going to mirror them. But you can start with one and add the other later.

I got a Shuttle OmniNAS KD20 on sale. This is a basic model made by an established small-format computer maker. It’s not a fast NAS but is much less expensive than many and does fine at turning your TV into a media centre from local content. We’re not talking about your office data centre here. The box is well designed and I found it very straightforward to set up. They indicate it’s supported by Win XP+, Mac and Linux.

In buying drives, the OmniNAS supports 2 drives up to 4TB each for max of 8 TB. That’s a lot of media. The WD Reds get the best reviews for the purpose, but this is a budget project. I found 2x 3TB Seagate external drives that were on sale for much less than the bare drives. Removing them from the case is straightforward but this does void the warranty. Thus it’s a good idea to test the drives in their cases prior to removal, if you take such a route. It’s also a slight bit more work.

Also note that setting up the NAS will erase anything on the drives, so copy anything off them before installing in the NAS. They’re generally configured to be in an array in a NAS. That way they appear as a single drive on the network.

In my case I was disassembling Seagate Expansion drives and used the free Seatools to test the drives prior. Seatools is not restricted to Seagate drives. This video reviews both the testing and the drive removal for that model. Shims do a better job than a screwdriver to avoid breaking the clips or damaging the surface – then you have spare cases for another external drive.

The OmniNAS supports both PC and laptop-sized SATA drives. Installing the drives is straightforward. Just follow the Quickstart Guide. You screw them onto the drive tray, then slide them in. Screws provided, as was a network cable. Plug it in and turn it on, voilà!

You then install Finder software on your PC. You can get the newer version from the web site. This finds the NAS on the network, then opens a browser window to configure the device.

It will ask for an Admin password, then later wants to set up a username and password. Make sure you have strong passwords, especially if you plan to share the media through the Internet. A tool like LastPass can help you track all your passwords securely.

I highly recommend you install the Firmware upgrade through the browser interface. (see the Downloads tab) The problems I saw reported with the unit when I researched it prior are addressed with this update. If you loose access to it on the network prior to updating, shut it down and then restart.

Be sure to edit the Workgroup name to match your LAN if it’s not the default “Workgroup”. (on your computer, right-click My Computer and select Properties. Scroll down to see the Workgroup name)

In my case I set up mirrored drives as the backup was more useful than all that drive space. I can easily change that later if I need more space.

Share Box sets your NAS up to serve media onto the Internet as your own “private cloud”, accessible from your Internet connected devices. Basically your own Dropbox service. This is done through an Omninas domain portal. You can skip that and set it up later if your main desire is for your local network and TV.

The box has a Twonky DLNS media server included free, which the LG TV happily and easily supported. Anything added to the “disc” folder is available to the TV. I added a lot of files – this took a bit of time to copy over on my non-Gigabit network – but the NAS had no trouble serving it all. In contrast, the LG PC software choked on a fraction of it and didn’t update reliably.

It also has an iTunes server, if you’re in Mac world or like serving your media that way. If not, turn it off.

And it has a print server to share your USB printer on the network. And an SD card reader and USB ports if you want to add or copy media that way.

It even has a torrent server, although you have to disable the media server for that. Several reviews criticised that but it may be a security measure.

The OmniNAS also comes with a copy of Acronis imaging software if you wish to use the NAS for your backups as well. It will work fine with recent editions of Microsoft Backup and Mac Time Machine as well – in fact any software that will backup to network locations.

If you want your backup to also serve as a remote access store, use a tool like Cobain Gravity that copies files rather than images them. Imaging software is ideal for the operating system and programs but copy software is better for your files to ensure immediate access in the event of trouble.

If you Map the network drive, then the NAS shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer and such making file transfer easier.

For simplicity, I set up the free Microsoft SyncToy to echo to the NAS some of the media folders like Photos. I like copies of those on my computer, so when I update them, Synctoy will match all the changes to the NAS.

Then you can have slide shows, music playlists, and more on your TV. It becomes today’s stereo. If you have surround speakers, it’s better even than an old Quad system. Any other devices on your network also have access to all the content now too.

And if you also want to access that media on your tablet, smartphone (Android or iPhone  apps in the Stores) or laptop on the road, Share Box to the rescue. No worries about storing your stuff on someone else’s servers. If you’re a small business person, you can backup your documents to the NAS, ensuring both a backup and that you always have access. No worries about remote access to your PC. (note the comments about backup types above if you want document access – don’t image those files)

I’ve been much happier with the OmniNAS than serving from my laptop. It’s been more reliable, frees up computer resources, and provides another layer of backup.
Have fun!
David

Hardware Commons

June 10, 2014 at 10:30 am | Posted in Design, Economoney, Hardware, History, Internet, Media, Science, Technology | Leave a comment

Just as software has it’s open source and licensing has Creative Commons, open knowledge of hardware is crucial for us to grow as a society in healthy ways. I recently wrote a similar article on network infrastructure – an open Internet.

Why is this even an issue? Current laws concentrate knowledge into property rights for economic control rather than the common good. Corporate structures, treated legally as a person and thus given the same rights, are concentrating economic activity into monopolies. The result is the concentration of knowledge and wealth in a progressively smaller group, the so-called 1%. (although that’s overstating it now) This has historically destabilized and destroyed civilizations.

If we’re going to learn the lessons of history, we need more balance and a more diversified economy. We need opportunity in the commons and that is best served by accessible knowledge.

This increased access to knowledge is hugely important…it acts as the foundational infrastructure on which we can start to build a whole new economy.”
— Alastair Parvin of WikiHouse

This video outlines how it can be applied to hardware:

And this page lists 10 open hardware projects. If you’ve been around long enough you’ll recognize the Access to Tools theme that was common in the old Whole Earth Catalogue. It was also a theme of R. Buckminster Fuller.
David

Look Up, Live

May 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology, Technology | Leave a comment

Look Up…   a rap on engaging with life, with people. Not so much with technology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY

The TED Controversy Continues

April 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Events, Internet, Media, Science | 2 Comments

A year ago, I summarised some of the events that had occurred as a result of 2 controversial talks at a TEDx event in England.

As the site Science Set Free illustrates, the controversy didn’t die off. (scroll down their page for the background) 251 PhDs and MDs have signed a petition that was recently delivered to TED, expanding on the original 16. There is also a change.org petition still underway. They held a public rebuttal, though it looks  more like a press conference for the petition.

This article also came out, with more details about the West Hollywood event they pulled the plug on, 2 weeks before it was due to go. As the event was largely intact, they decided to go ahead anyway but Livestream inexplicably pulled the plug on them too. TED seems the only explanation. That created a rather large price tag for the shows producer. Reimbursement or support seems dubious at this stage of the game but it’s disturbing the apparent lack of integrity on TED’s part. As Science Set Free notes, TED “has become the central hub of cutting edge social and scientific thought internationally“. That’s disturbing if they’re being driven by radical atheists. Ironically their behaviour reinforces Sheldrake’s points.

The other TEDx event I’m aware of that lost TED support also went ahead, with a little more warning. Hosted by a small university, their original line-up had only one speaker mentioning the word “consciousness” in their talk title but there was a human potential theme. Ironically, that speaker was Kilby-award winning physicist John Hagelin who had spoken at TEDxWomen a few months prior. That talk is still present in the TED channel. The theme of that event? Fact & Faith.

Amusingly, the university conference is now being presented on-line under the banner “Consciousness Talks“. They set up a web site for it and have been gradually posting videos from that event this year. I posted an article on one of them by Dr. Pam Peeke: Hacked by a Cupcake, on Food and Addiction. One that should be on TED. I look forward to others.
David

Heartbleed – what is it?

April 11, 2014 at 11:16 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | 7 Comments

When you log into a secure web site and get “https” and a lock symbol, what you transmit is secure, right? Maybe. About 2/3’s of the web uses OpenSSL and its recently been discovered it’s had a bug for about 2 years.

“Heartbleed has the potential to be one of the biggest, most widespread vulnerabilities in the history of the modern web.”

Security expert Bruce Schneier says “‘catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

While there is a fix and it’s unlikely this was discovered and exploited in the past, the issue now is with sites that don’t have decent maintenance and don’t get updated. Now that the bug is known, some old site you used once long ago may now be insecure. If you have the habit of using the same password all over or using your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) logins on other sites, you may have unwittingly shared your access all over. Including to sites that are now secure.

Changing your password on such old sites won’t help in the slightest, contrary to some of the advice floating around. It’s only a useful exercise if you know the site has updated. But you can on sites that are fixed. All the major ones apparently have but there are millions of servers out there.

And the trick is, even server admins may never know they’ve been hacked with this one.

This article explains: Heartbleed Nightmare

You can check a site you use here

This is a great reason not to use the same password on multiple sites and may be a great time to implement a password manager like LastPass, if you have not already.

Not only did Monday bring Heartbleed but there was a security update for WordPress on Tuesday and another for Jetpack on Wednesday. The second 2 are things bloggers should update now. The first you want to be sure your web host has. You really don’t want your ecommerce offerings to go nasty on you.
David

UPDATE – see comments for more links. It’s also become apparent it exists in many security devices.

Decentralized Internet

March 15, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Media, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment

The technology landscape has been changing rapidly. Companies like Microsoft have already lost over half their market share. Meanwhile, the open Internet has devolved into a giant marketing opportunity. Dominant technology players are gathering everything they can about our movements, shopping, and social lives. Just look at what you have to approve on a typical smart phone app. Or how you’re invited to use one service to log into another. Government agencies have been doing the same and more, quite illegally.

Meanwhile, a variety of technologies have been developing to change the way we connect and interact – mainly to take out the intermediaries. The behaviour of business and government above and the revelations of security breaches and spying are simply pushing those technologies to the fore so we can take back control of our lives and devices.
Here is a talk by Fred Wilson in Paris, on 3 macro trends in society:

3 macro trends:
– from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks (eg: newspaper to Twitter)
– unbundling – how products and services are delivered, specialization (eg: finance moving away from banks, a la carte entertainment on demand)
– becoming a network node (w/ smart phones, shifting from desktop), always on and connected

4 Sectors to watch:
– money – distributed and decentralized payments on the Internet, without the banks
– health & wellness – staying out of the health care system, wearable monitors
– data leakage – data pollution, spying
– identity – cryto-currency applied to online and secure identity

This article lists 21 technologies that may decentralize networks, including mesh networks, alternative domain registration, and decentralized farming. We live in remarkable times.
David

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