Archive for October, 2009

Online Banking – An Opinion

Friday, October 30th, 2009

In my post on Cloud Computing, I mentioned using online banking “if you have the guts”. I had originally gone so far off the subject of that post that I almost forgot what I was writing about. I realized that I had too much to say on the subject and decided to spin-off this post instead.

Online banking is the process of connecting to your financial institution, and performing transactions, from a computer or mobile device. No line for the ATM or teller. Sounds great doesn’t it? Think again.

The question my clients often ask me is “Is online banking secure?”. That’s like asking if logging into your computer, with your password, is secure. It is, but there are environmental issues that can lower that security. I am not a security expert, but for the sake of this debate, let’s say the technology being used for the connection between your computer, or device, and the bank is secure. It is, by the way, but I am trying to prevent some security nut from arguing the point beyond my pay-grade. The problem is, even with the connection security, there is an analog security hole. There is the possibility that someone is watching as you type your credentials. At that point, all electronic security is useless because they can now log in as you. What do ya do?

Making sure you are not being watched during any form of authentication is a start. You can’t always be alone with your computer, but you can simply be aware of what, or who, is around you. Are security cameras recording you? Is someone waiting for you to log on? I ask people all the time to turn around when I log in. It is easy to plug the analog hole.

Now is it safe? It depends. The end user is still one of the most important parts of any good security. In my business, I have seen too many infected Windows based machines. Malware keystroke loggers, like Hellz Little Spy, are the electronic version of someone watching over your shoulder. The connection from your browser, or banking application, can be as secure as Fort Knox, and it means nothing if your computer is infected. If it is capturing everything you type, and transmitting it to a far-away land , then all bets are off. For that reason I will never do online banking from a PC. Yep, I said it. Here comes the Windows defenders. Before you hate me, let me make something clear. I don’t hate Windows. I use Windows daily. I have worked with Windows based networks since Windows 3.1 and Excel 2.0. I use the right tool for the job, period. I don’t care if it is made by Microsoft, Apple, or a community of developers. I recommend what best fits the need. Yes, I use Macs at home, but with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Server running virtually. And, I know my Windows installs are clean, but there’s no way I would risk my accounts to test it. To me, for online banking, a Mac is the right tool for the job, and even then you should practice basic safe computing.

Apple’s New Magic Mouse – A Quick Review

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I helped switch my mother-in-law from Windows to Mac this past weekend. She bought a new 21.5 inch iMac. Ooooooo. Ahhhhhhh. Very nice and very fast.

What stuck out in my mind was the new Magic Mouse. I have heard a number of people mention that having a touch surface on a traditional mouse sounded interesting. Of course they also expressed some reservation over it’s practical use.

As soon as I un-boxed this thing it felt cool. It even has an on/off switch to save battery! I was able to use it, without even thinking about it, almost instantly. I want one, now. The scroll, both horizontal and vertical, was very smooth. Flicking is amazing. When scrolling it senses your speed and continues as though you threw the page. If you hold the Control Key while scrolling, the screen zooms in or out. This is a feature that has existed for a while, but which is now being advertised on the product page. The new Mac grandmother will have it much easier. Swiping, using two fingers to move forward or back through web pages and photos, was a bit more difficult to use. You have to use two fingers, moving left and right, while still holding the mouse. It took a while, but once you figure out what works with your hand, it just works.

The Magic mouse was originally only available with a new iMac but, as of today, is shipping as a stand alone product priced at $69. It will require users to have OS 10.6.2, which is not available as of this post, or to install a wireless mouse software update .

I did run into a few issues during the switch. The Windows machine itself was most of the problem, but moving certain types of data did prove problematic. I guess that is the topic of a future post.

Cloud Computing – The debate

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I listen to a lot of tech podcasts and lately there seems to be a recurring theme. Someone suggests cloud computing is bad, dangerous or just plain useless, while someone else tries to defend it. It’s like trying to defend vaccines to someone who is fixed in their belief that vaccines are bad. People who think there is too much risk in taking a certain action will never agree with those that think there is too much risk in not taking the action. I want to take a different approach here and look at cloud computing as a tool. Like other tools, it’s use comes with some risk. When you use any tool you are responsible doing so safely, protecting yourself and others from physical harm. When using cloud computing similar issues exist. With cloud computing however it’s your data that needs protecting. Lets start from the top.

According to Wikipedia, Cloud Computing is defined as:

“…the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet on a utility basis.”

There is a lot more if you want to read it, but basically the ‘Cloud’ refers to the Internet and the ‘Computing’ refers to the services companies provide there. Many of these services are free. Most of Google’s services or Twitter are examples. Some are pay services, such as hosted email solutions or the remote access products provided by Citrix. In a broad sense, Cloud Computing encompasses the computing services we use over the net as an alternative to using applications installed on our local computer hardware. If you want a bit more detail,¬†Infoworld has an article describing the various types of services provided under the cloud computing banner. However, lets discuss whether cloud computing is a good or bad thing. We will start with some of the disadvantages to cloud computing and then we’ll touch on some of the advantages.


It’s time for Apple to bring landscape mode to the rest of the iPhone OS and built-in apps

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Apple’s iPhone has been slow to adopt landscape mode for its built-in applications. It took a while, but now we can type and read in landscape mode within Mail and Messages, in addition to the early entries, Safari and iTunes. Many apps in the App Store include a landscape mode as though it’s expected, and it is. However, there doesn’t seem to be any hint that the OS itself or any of the other built-in apps will get a wide view.

This disparity fractures the overall experience. Jumping from Safari in landscape mode to any other program brings you to one of your home screens… which only displays in portrait mode. Then, pop into Messages or Mail and you get back to wide view again. It’s not a huge challenge to navigate at an angle or to manually rotate the phone. But Apple has always made the extra effort to give us a seamless, fluid experience. Rotating the phone also causes a small, but real pause as the rotation is animated. And, as good as the accelerometer is, there are times when it takes a moment for the phone to register physical rotation, if at all.

Some could argue, and rightfully so, that landscape mode is inefficient for displaying content, especially when using the onscreen keyboard. True, but I prefer the wider keyboard. I also prefer keeping the orientation the same. Finally, I prefer to make the phone wait for me, not the other way around.

Apple, give us the option for a complete landscape view mode through out the iPhone OS and it’s built-in apps. Pretty please with a credit card on top?

T-Mobile, Sidekick & Microsoft = Danger – Updated 2x

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Let me start with a note from T-Mobile:

“Sidekick customers, during this service disruption, please DO NOT remove your battery, reset your Sidekick, or allow it to lose power.”

If you haven’t heard, there’s trouble in Sidekick City. The data for T-Mobile’s Sidekick users is stored on the cloud servers of a company called Danger, or I should say was stored there. This weekend, a server glitch (we’ll get to that in a minute) caused an almost certain loss of Sidekick users personal data. That means that contacts, calendar entries, photos and to-do list entries for a lot of people are gone. Did anyone at T-Mobile look at the company’s name? I mean storing important customer data on a company called SOL would not be allowed, right? But Danger is OK simply because it is Microsoft/Danger?

Microsoft acquired Danger in 2008 and, according to PCWorld, ¬†their position is that it was Danger’s technology that failed and not Microsoft Technology. I don’t think there are a lot of Sidekick users thinking that makes it all OK. Most companies have backups, but it appears the company called ‘Danger’ did not. The T-Mobile note continues:

“Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger’s latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos – that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.”

Someone at Microsoft must have wondered “could you have just said Danger instead of Microsoft/Danger”. Not good.

So how could this ‘glitch’ happen?