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08 February 2015

When to Bail and When to Sail

A couple years ago, I decided to learn PHP since I had a website and I felt that my knowledge of web development was lacking without it. I started off with a few simple PHP pages, and didn't really intend to go much farther than that. I knew that creating my own web platform would be pretty futile, since as one person who didn't really know anything about how frameworks worked under the hood, I likely couldn't come up with something better on my own. The plan was to learn PHP, then switch over to something that was already an accepted solution. Always up for a challenge however, I kept going and a few pages written with a smattering of PHP evolved into an actual piece of software that did more than show a different greeting every time the page was loaded. I knew what I was doing, but I pushed on anyway because things were going pretty well - I had a simple blog, pages, a login system - and they worked fairly well. I kept thinking of ways to do it better so I improved as I went, a...

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26 March 2014

To Update or Not to Update

With the official end of life for Windows XP quickly approaching and some people scrambling to migrate to a new system, it's interesting to look at the reasons for and against pushing through an upgrade. Upgrading to a new version of an operating system or a different operating system entirely can be a lot of work with migrating files and settings over. This is especially the case with XP, since there is no direct upgrade path from XP (which is 13 years old) to Windows 7 or 8 - or Linux/Mac for some.

Since upgrading to a new operating system is generally more of an ordeal than updating individual applications, there's those who consider hunkering down rather than moving on when end of life comes around. There are always reasons against it - it takes time to get everything on the new system set up, there may be a learning curve, it might be expensive. The issue is that while these are valid concerns, choosing to stay with an aging system that is out of s...

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06 January 2014

Tech Tasks to Start 2014

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Now that we're on to the beginning of the first full week of the new year and we're setting into 2014, it's a good time to take a look at the technology status quo and see what adjustments can be made for a safe, secure, and productive new year online.

Change passwords. Although once a year is much less frequent than passwords should be changed, memorizing new passwords can be a pain. Once a year is better than never, especially when the same passwords have been around for a while. Take some time to come up with a good pattern for passwords that is easy to remember but difficult to guess then stick to it. Use a pattern that results in different passwords for each website without easily guessed information in it and has a mix of numbers, letters, and other symbols. Interestingly, though ...

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04 December 2013

Stuck in the Monkeysphere

Humans are a social species, so as a species we don't like being alone for long periods of time, and we like the attention of others. The Internet seems like a great thing with the rise of various social networks that let us share our interests and thoughts with people across the globe and allows us to gather a large social following of like-minded people. Given that, it would seem that the Internet should make us all happy as we expand our circles globally and to people we may have never met in person. Social networking is now the number one activity on the Internet (displacing porn, which was at the top for quite a while).

As we spend more time online with our virtual friends, we start to lose some of our ability to manage real-world social interactions to the point where picking up the phone or meeting someone in person makes some people incredibly nervous. Research is showing that as our relationships increasingly move to the Internet, our satisfaction in these relati...

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23 September 2013

Biometric Badness

There's nothing quite like the slick, high tech (when it works, at least) feeling of swiping your finger to unlock your devices. It's fast, it's convenient, and it feels futuristic, which explains why there are so many laptops that are capable of authenticating users via their fingerprints. Unfortunately, using fingerprints as a "more secure" login system should have been a short time fad. Although the technology continues to improve, it provides a false sense of security.

Why is this significant now? The technology has been embedded in laptops for some time - I have one too - but Apple is the first to put it on a phone which, if the past is any indication, will cause it to make its way into other phones as well. In terms of the implementation of it, from what I have read it sounds fairly sound. Fingerprint data is hashed (converted to an irreversible string of data that looks nothing like a fingerprint) and stored in a dedicated area on the iPhone. iOS has access to this...

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20 August 2013

Bridging the Technology Gap

The world of computing has come a long way in the area of usability. It's possible for anyone to pick up a device and find their way around it because of clean graphical user interfaces. Don't get me wrong, it's a great thing that makes the Internet accessible to everyone no matter of age. The problem is that this is moving a large part of the population to the point where they are computer illiterate, with little to no understanding of how to fix or how to manage their own computers. As we collectively decide to delegate the duties of maintaining and building devices to the IT departments and engineers - who many think rather low of - we start to remove the understanding of how to manage an increasingly computerized world from policy makers.

As we move to more accessible computers, we start to introduce kids to technology at younger and younger ages, it's easy to lead ourselves to believe that kids are getting increasingly computer literate. While we are giving kids acce...

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18 July 2013

Augmented Reality and Privacy

Augmented reality uses a computer to overlay information on our view of the real world to enhance it by providing more information or entertainment or even ads. While it has been a feature of science fiction - in spacesuit helmets, targeting computers, and the like - for some time, it's working its way into the real world. One of the first practical applications of it was Google Goggles, which uses the camera on an Android phone to search via images or bar codes and to overlay extra information on the view through the camera. This is something that gets more useful as the technology becomes wearable - as with Google Glass - and has some obvious uses, such as navigation.

The fact that in order to be useful, augmented reality technology requires a computer to be tracking in real-time what the user is doing while the technology is in use raises some concerns about privacy and security, both for the user themselves as well as for anyone around them. Some of these concerns cam...

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17 June 2013

The Worth of Your Email

When it comes to using the Internet, an email account is the base requirement for providing identification. Nearly everything from commenting on an article to creating an account on a new website requires an email address. Most of us log into websites with our email without giving it a second thought, which is understandable because it's the standard for confirming who we are at least once. Given how easily we throw our email addresses around, it's easy to forget the importance of the data that is or will eventually find its way into the inbox. Password reset links, account confirmations, bank statements - it all ends up in that one, convenient spot.

Unfortunately, most people don't keep their email as secure as the data their inboxes contain would warrant. That's actually incredibly alarming considering once someone has access to an email account, taking over additional accounts, sending spam, and stealing data and money is not a difficult task. Perusing the Internet and...

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16 May 2013

Historically Searching...

Digging through the data that the online services you use have stored (and available to you) is always an interesting endeavour. At this point, most people realize that no matter what websites you're signed up for, most, if not all of them store some amount of information about you. Some sites choose to tell you about the data they collect, and others even give you a nice log of everything from where you've logged in from to everything you've searched for. Generally, the reasoning behind keeping this data is that it allows services to show you more relevant ads and to customize your searches so that you'll only find the things you want to see. It's actually a very interesting exercise to make a new account on Google, for example, on a brand new browser and start searching for things. After a surprisingly short amount of time, Google stops showing you things that you disagree with.

Microsoft and Google, both running search engines and having a fair amount of social network...

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11 April 2013

Saying Goodbye to a Dinosaur (Windows XP)

Forescore and 12 years ago in 2001, Microsoft announced the release of Windows XP. Windows XP was the best version of Windows to that point and a way of forgetting Windows ME, which we don't speak of. In a lot of senses, Windows XP is still a fairly rock solid operating system which is pretty impressive for how old it is, almost 12 years. Twelve years and 3 versions of Windows later, 38% of Internet users are still trying to hang on to XP.

According to Microsoft, it's time to upgrade as support for XP ends 362 days from now, on April 8, 2014. For those who use XP because they prefer its interface over Vista onwards or who simply can't afford to upgrade, that's a scary thought. Once support expires, that's 38% of Internet users who are now at more of the mercy of the Internet. To be fair, your computer isn't going to spontaneously combust when support expires, but with no more patches to fix security holes, antivirus can only do so much to keep you and your data safe (so i...

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