Monday, October 26, 2009

Network security: public service

You know the cover pages full of adverts that many free internet services ( hotels, restaurants, etc..) have? What if they included a little embedded application that showed a stream of all of the clear text passwords being transmitted over that network as you connected? Obviously, you would not want to attach the login username to it, or make it really useful-- just make people aware that there are many applications out there that use cleartext passwords and if you are on an unsecured network, this puts you at risk. I saw a related app on the showfloor at last years SC09 and it raised a lot of eyebrows, even amongst the geeks who attend a supercomputer conference. What do you think the results of this would be in the general public??

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tweetie2- very sweetie

I recently mentioned in an article about my iPod Touch that I was falling in love with Tweetie2 for twitter use - even across multiple accounts. I love it so much that even though I still hate and despise the Touch keyboard, I find myself at home picking up the touch to twitter with this Apple Design award winner rather than any of the computers I have access to. I am not going to waste time listing all the features available, you can click the link and read the website yourself. Instead, here are the top 5 reasons I love Tweetie2 enough to abandon a real keyboard.

1) Offline Sync: Since I have a touch and not an iPhone, I do not have constant connections. But I can download all the latest tweets, hit the road, respond while traveling ( while someone else drives) and have it auto sync when I get a connection again.

2) Bounce to update: There is really no technical or life changing reason why this is important. it is just simple, elegant and seriously fun. Simply pull down the list from the top and release to have the app update.

3) "Email this tweet": There are really a multitude of ways you can simply respond to a tweet, but the addition of being able to email it is a bonus. I still have important people in my life who are *gasp* not on twitter ( the Ogre is the main one). There are often times I want to share a link or message with him and this has always involved cutting and pasting and having multiple apps open. Being able to simply select "email this tweet"has made life much easier.

4) The Blue Light Special: Switching between your timeline, @replies and DMs is as simple as clicking icons at the bottom of your screen. Even better, when you have new activity in one of those streams, it glows blue. My timeline is active enough that I just ignore that one and update at will, but having DM notifications ( which I sometimes do not monitor closely enough) is very nice. If you are a low volume twitterer, all of these would be handy.

5) Threaded DMs: If you have had some back and forth exchange of messages with someone via DM, you get to see the whole exchange history when you open the most recent DM. I absolutely love this feature and wish I could get it for @replies as well.

There are other features... maybe some you love even more and I have not glommed onto. Do you use Tweetie? If so, which features do you love most?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tales from a Dying Town- Extreme Makeover edition

Extreme Home Makeover is coming to town. Well, not actually here in town, but pretty close by and everyone in the area is involved. The buzz is flying - it is all over the local news ( radio and newspaper as well as the local Twitter crew). Since the 12 year old daughter Kori has been on a Relay for Life team with a local radio station for several years, she and her family are already used to being local celebrities. That is one of the advantages of being in a small town... you become inextricably linked to the others in towns around here. Everyone in the area here is glad to see people getting rewarded for doing good and helping to care for others. And it is a story like that that made Kori Brown an amazing story and helped to get her family on Extreme Home Makeover. When I say everyone, that is not an overstatement- there are lots of local churches and civic groups who are involved this week in the tearing down and rebuilding of a new home- and local high school students ( including my eldest daughter) are volunteering next Monday when they get to the "decorate/clean up/landscape" phase of the project.

They may call us a dying town, but I have never seen this sort of rallying energy from a dead organism before... if you are interested in the story, be sure to follow @HallmarkHomes for the full story.

"Inspired by sex dreams....."

I admit it, as soon as I heard Brandi Carlile say that her new song Dreams was inspired by sex dreams, I was hooked in. Luckily, the music is great and I have stayed around just for the fun. I got lucky and the One2One network got me a free download of her entire album. I liked it so much, I turned around a bought a copy for a friend as soon as it was available.

True Confessions? I am a die hard Melissa Ethridge and Indigo Girls fan. ( kill me, I am already over it) As such, I was doomed to love this album. In "Looking Out", the rocking beat pushed hard and adds to the desperation and ache that echoes in her voice while she belts out lyrics like: "I've got a new interpretation and it's a better point of view... you were looking out for a landslide and I was looking out for you..." .... "I close my eyes and think of you, I take a step , I think of you, I catch my breathe - I think of you...." "when you are outside looking in, you belong to someone".... This contrasts with the quiet vocals ( almost a yodel in some places) accompanied by ukele in "Oh Dear" "It's only you that my heart desires, only you alone that can break my fall...". Then of course there is "Dreams", not quite folk, not quite country, not quite rock but 100% wonderful. "I keep it to myself, I don't know what it means- I can't argue with dreams-- I have dreams". If you have any love in your life for a female folk rocker type of musician, this is a must listen, must own album.

Your Songs, My Songs, a trip down memory lane

I am apparently exactly the demographic being targeted in the latest Harry Connick, Jr musical collection ( album? CD? Download?) from the One2One network. I was very lucky to get a copy of the new set of songs to review and had a blast with it from the first play through. This is a set of songs that were fresh and new and popular as I was a kid growing up. Listening to this immediately flashes me back top a calmer, safer and more pleasant time-- how can you not love that ? As a matter of fact, it reminded me so much of my childhood that I gave my free copy to my Dad as a part of his recent birthday celebration.

While Harry soars with " All the way" and "Can't help falling in love with you" and you can not help but sing along when he gets to "Besame Mucho". I was not thrilled with his rendition of "Some Enchanted Evening"- but in fairness ever since I saw South Pacific as a child, no one but Rossano Brazzi is allowed to sing this song and have me like it. He was also just not quite right for "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"- but it takes a strong take to overcome Roberta Flack in my mind. I would have ended the collection with "And I Love You So" instead of pushing on, but I am an incurable romantic.

It has been a couple of years since Harry has released anything other than Christmas music, and this sweet little album is a good plunge back into the waters. I will quietly qualify this by saying that I also recently picked up the new Michael Buble and that is currently showing as many plays in my iTunes library as Harry is-- even though it came out a month or so later... if you have to pick just one retro dream album- go with the Buble. If picking up a couple works, I recommend them both.

iPod Touch: gateway drug?

I love my blackberry. I got one of the first set of blackberry's ever release when RIM turned them loose at JavaOne in 1999. I left for a while, but eventually gave up on my Treo and came back home to my Blackberry.

Lately, I have been looking at it a little differently. I got an iPod Touch about two months ago. I got it as a gaming platform. As a gaming platform, it seriously rocks. ( more on that in another post) I also got it because it has the same interface as the iPhone, so I can develop apps without sinking for an iPhone...) Over time, I have been adding some other little apps. First, just utlities ( calculator, converter, etc..). Then things that allowed me to take advantage of the wifi connection at home- facebook, gmail, tweetie2 (very sweet little app). I get so used to using them when there is a wifi connection that I sometimes find myself itching for them when I am off the network as well.

it is starting to feel like my touch is a gateway drug to the iPhone. There are still serious problems that will keep me from switching to the iPhone ( lack of multi-tasking is the biggest).. but there are also some really cool apps that take advantage of the camera the touch does not have that I would love to play with. An iPhone is starting to smell good...

This is the lesson that platform makers forget... it is often not about the platform at all-- it is all about the apps.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Network Security: a teachable moment

As parents, we are always on the watch for the "teachable moment" . These are moments that take basic concepts out of the abstract and into a concrete immediacy. For the simple, basic things in life ( compassion, humility, kindness, life and death, etc..) there are many opportunities to share those life lessons. For others, the opportunities are few and far between. One of the life lessons that are hard to find concrete examples for is Network Security. Safe networking ranks right up with safe sex when you are trying to find non-theoretical examples to share with your kids. I recently had the perfect teachable moment to hammer network security home with my teen aged daughter.

Growing up in a geek household, on the net early, my kids have always had a good grounding in online safety ( don't talk to strangers, don't give out personal information, people may e lying about who they really are, etc..) but when we talk about people hacking into networks or computers, it is feel to them like a remote- "only to governments and corporations" sort of event. Kids visit from house to house, from Starbucks to Panera, easily plugging into anyone and everyone's free network- not pondering any potential risk.

Then, I had the great opportunity to use my iPod touch to bring this home. My daughter and I were sitting in the car and I noticed on my iPod that it was seeing wifi from the school. Being sure it was a locked down network, I clicked connect ( geek psychology) and was astonished to find that the campus had implemented open WiFi. When asking what the big deal was, I pull up the NetScan application on my iPod and showed her how I could start to gather information about objects currently connected to the network. ( yes, there were open ports and some potential vulnerablities spotted). We talked about how, given a laptop connected instead of my iPod, this information could have been used to look for vulnerabilities, break into computers and gather data. She was astonished at how easy the first steps were and that gathering data did not require massive amounts of "hard core" programming.

It occurred to me that we had talked a lot about network safety, but we had never sat kids down on our home or any public network and showed them how it worked. If you are out with your kids in a place with a public network and have a secure device you do not mind connecting, I encourage you to do a quick demo. Don't crack someone's computer... it's just not polite ( and fairly illegal in most places)- but showing how easy it is to scan for information proved a big eye opener here...