Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics: The Unknown Competitor

There has been one long-awaited extravaganza waiting to unfold this year: the Rio 2016 Olympics. This is where human beings are put to the test in a series of physical and mental competitions to reveal the world’s best athletes. It’s also a time to celebrate—together in one city—the peace and harmony of all creeds, all religions, and all walks of life in a string of unity. There isn’t many times in life that everyone agrees on one thing: goodness. Goodness can be found in the efforts of all athletes who strive to do and be their best in these upcoming Olympic Games.

But there’s another quiet, unknown competitor that waits in the shadows, waiting for the right time to come out and bask in the limelight. It’s one that very few people speak of; it’s one that doesn’t speak a word, doesn’t cross a finish line, and doesn’t do an interview or win a medal; it’s a competitor that causes a huge controversy without qualifying for an event.

Who’s the unknown competitor?

It’s technology.

As the Rio 2016 Olympic Games go on for the next 16 days, we’ll read about great finishes, new world records, spectacular displays of human grace and perfection, and storylines about sacrifice and dedication by athletes to earn the grand prize of a gold medal for their respected homelands. These games will bring news media attention to an all-time high, with Internet websites and news channels broadcasting live feeds of major events in Rio. Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram will be teaming with insider information about the athlete’s conditions, welfare, mentality, and their overall opinion about being in Rio.

That’s where the unknown competitor steps in. With scammers and hackers working hard behind the scenes, new kinds of solicitations, malware, and tricky scams will move into high gear during these next few weeks, sailing around the world in the form of fake emails, bad hyperlinks, and false websites. Every time there is a major news event, the unknown competitor plays into the storyline, causing grief, financial loss and unexpected pain for anyone (even for the athlete) who decides to look up information online about the event.

Technology is at the heart of all communications in 2016. It’s all too evident. If you observe technology with a keen eye, you can’t miss people in stadiums using smartphones, wireless tablets, cameras, and recording devices to capture the intimate moments of the Olympic Games. This information is eventually posted to the Internet. Some of this “raw data” is what journalists and sportswriters want to see—all the “behind-the-scenes action” that doesn’t appear in print. This makes for a richer, more personal take on a future headline story that is filled with moments of frustration, reward, success and hardship. The main event to capture is the failure of an athlete in the midst of a competition—but even better than that—capturing the emotions of that athlete hours later after the event finishes. That’s what gets hits on websites; that’s what boasts malware on the Internet.

We are a society hungry and desperate for digital information—any kind of information will do: video blogs, emails, snapchats, electronic postings, video highlights, digital photos, personal blogs, and, one of our favorites, digital articles. With the digital era spinning into high gear during these Olympic Games, one personal statement by an athlete can reach billions of followers in a matter of seconds. That’s power; that’s control; that’s the satisfaction of a “billion digital addicts” getting what they want: digital information.

With so much focus and hype from around the world about these Olympic Games, it comes as no surprise that technology works its magic and offers another layer of sophistication and an honest security matter for everyone involved. You’ll find few private moments with technology’s presence being on high alert; you’ll even see a sense of falseness prevail long after the games finish. Technology does all that; it garners all this attention without anyone realizing it, without anyone ever knowing. That’s what it does best.

The unknown competitor achieves an imaginary gold medal of its own, crossing the finish line in world record time, alone. Technology doesn’t have any other competition—only itself.

Author's Note: The Rio 2016 Olympics serves as general reminder to all of us how technology really works its magic. With so much coverage happening on the playing field, we soon forget how much coverage is taking place behind the scenes and off the field. Technology is the unknown competitor of our times. It shall dominate and progress into its own as the years move along, and it'll never miss a beat. With billions of people waiting for more digital information each day, it has now found a subtle place of acknowledgement in our society.

Review this interesting little book: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Some May Wonder: Is Windows Turning into a Service?

Windows. It’s not just an opening in a wall to let the light in; it’s a defining verb in society; it’s a sense of belonging; it’s an extended family; it’s a reliable companion; it’s a resource of intriguing information; it’s a connection to the rest of the world. Windows is a word found in daily dialogue between two strangers at a bus stop, at a church gathering, at a downtown street corner, or even after school in a parking lot. Even Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella has seen the real reason why Windows is so important to society: “We need to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.”

That need equates the love of a product so many share with the same vision. Windows means so much to so many people. You put in twenty years of love, innovation, development and acceptance, and that’s what you get: true dedication.

No matter how you look at it: computer users secretly love Windows. They can deny this fact in your presence, but undoubtedly (and actions speak louder than words) many of them have stayed true to the leader of the digital world. New studies confirm that love and dedication: 91% of the world is running Windows products; 9% of the world is running Apple products. There’s no arguing that fact. Users continue to focus on Windows products for their digital needs (like Windows 7, 8.1 and 10) without a blink of an eye as they swipe their credit cards or write their personal checks. 

Microsoft’s huge success seems eerily similar to its past. 

During the peak of Windows 95, users were given license numbers, recovery CDs, and real instructional booklets (compared to today’s non-existent guides). Windows had given its best in terms of customer satisfaction by providing users with “user essentials” to operate the machine. You have to recall that many users were just starting out, and they had little confidence in understanding computer jargon and programming language. Users wanted a computer to operate a business, develop a spreadsheet, write a letter or email, and play a simple game or two. Their needs were very simple, and Microsoft fulfilled those needs by offering a computer that anyone could use and operate. It was obvious that Microsoft achieved their goals by the dominance they had over the market, putting Apple to the side as it steamrolled its way into the hearts and minds of every living person.

When you have this kind of success, you can say and do anything: users will follow. Millions and millions of its users are going to agree with whatever Satya Nadella tells them. His passions, his beliefs, his overall visions of the digital world are in his hands. He will lead the users of technology to the Promised Land of Digital Clouds, and they will pay whatever the price to enter its Golden Gates. He will be the preacher and the poet to a whole-new generation of users—and they’ll hang on his every word, every decision.

Windows. It’s just that powerful of word in society. Really, it is. You want a hero for today. Look no further.

But there’s a few of us, including myself, among its faithful, dedicated followers who believe some big change is on the horizon. Something that will forever change how Windows delivers its service; something that controls and oversees every aspect of its development and growth. Some of us faithful followers are beginning to wonder: Is Windows turning into a service?

Every successful venture has plenty of things to hide. This is true with Windows products. First off, there will be no Windows 11. Does that come as a shock to you, my dedicated follower? No Windows 11. The new way of doing business is to do perpetual updating to the same product. The secret is to force users to accept all “windows updates,” eliminating power from the consumer. Windows will perform whatever changes it wants. That’s what Windows 10 is doing. Full, complete power over their faithful, dedicated users—for a price!

Microsoft is developing Windows into an $89 per year service. You own the machine; they own the rights to the license. This eliminates illegal copies and lost revenue gains, including complete and financial control over a product that people love, that people want, that people need.

Service is about to get a new identity—Microsoft-style.

Author's Note: The signs of Microsoft turning into a service are all there, all in order. If you spend time considering how technology has been changing in the last few years, you'd understand you're getting less, getting fewer options with each upgrade. Microsoft is taking out all the "bells and whistles" of the past, and it's setting us up for some kind of changeover. This is very similar with how the smartphone industry is taking away "unlimited minutes." They have you in the boat, liking the services and benefits of being connected 24/7. They know they're in control of the user's tastes and desires. The last step is to charge you for these services that you so desperately need.

Review this interesting little book: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tech Solutions: Avoiding Identity Theft in 2017

If you think 2016 came as a busy year for scammers and hackers to attack the public, expect another year of talented criminals to try their hand at committing the world’s easiest crime: identity theft. With a great amount of raw data floating around the Internet, this comes as no surprise to security experts, software giants, security advisers—and even computer consultants like myself. Yes, criminals will, by most accounts, succeed at their goal of stealing private information from strangers, establishing more fake credit cards and many false loan applications without lifting a finger.

Don’t forget: this is the digital era. Everything’s digital. Everything connects to everything else in some way. Billions of pieces of data (about you) are waiting to be found. Connect them together in some logical sense (with a bit of research and a small inkling of curiosity) and you have a window of opportunity. Even at my level of knowledge, it’s scary to think that someone out there has access to such a wide array of rich and somewhat accurate information.

Criminals are breaking into homes without even opening a door or making a phone call. They don’t need cards or keys to ruin someone’s life. Because private information is so readily available in all forms through data-collection services, public locations, and simple Google web searches, you can build a profile of someone’s life, someone’s data, someone’s email, and someone’s private information into a workable identity. 

Simply put, identity theft is a crime. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 defines this crime as “knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.” This offense, in most circumstances when found guilty, carries a maximum term of 15 years' imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.

With these facts in mind, how do you avoid identity theft in 2017? Here’s a list of five suggestions to protect yourself, based on my 20-year computer career with thousands of computer users and hundreds of small business owners. 
  • Avoid giving out your private information. Let’s face it, you are able to be reached via smartphone, landline, text, email, and video chat. Any of these marketers could ask for private information. No matter what you think, don’t give it out. Stand tall. Take this issue seriously. Scammers do. The more they ask, the less you give away.
  • Sign up for Some clients think this does little to help. But not being on the list keeps this tiny door open for scammers to call and bother you. Close this door by signing up all your phones to this FREE service. Re-register with this FREE service every year.
  • Start using the new EMV chip technology. EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, is a global standard for inter-operation of integrated circuit cards (IC cards or “chip cards”) and IC card capable point of sale (POS) terminals and automated teller machines (ATMs), for authenticating credit and debit card transactions. When you use this card, sales people don’t touch your card, don’t see your card and its digits—and this adds to another layer of protection for you and the seller.
  • Continue using STRONG, CREATIVE passwords for your various accounts. Listen, a short password like JOHNANDMARY doesn’t work anymore. Not JOHNSPASSWORD either. Even JOHNLOVESMARY fails. But John%loves$Mary works. The longer the password, the harder it is for scammers to figure it out. You should also change your “most-used” email, credit cards and banking passwords every year—just to be extra safe.
  • Use fictitious answers with Security Questions. Never give real answers. On average, some websites require up to three Security Question answers. Pick strange questions and give them irrational answers. For example: What was the name of your first car? Answer: SevenWheelCar. You see, it’s a car that doesn’t exist. Keep your fictitious answers in a safe place.

As identity thieves threaten more people, getting creative keeps you one step ahead of them. They may be creative, but you’re wising up to their schemes.

Author's Note: In all honesty, there's no simple answer to Identity Theft. It's a crime without a face; it's a crime that destroys people's lives; it's the crime of the century. The basis to all these issues comes from huge data-collection systems that store the world's information. Government laws and regulations can do little to protect Americans from the fallout of the digital system. The answer is simple: creativity and logic will outplay and outdo any cybercriminal act. It's time to play hardball.

Check out this interesting little book: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cell Phones and Car Crashes: Trend or Pattern?

Statistics usually reveal the truth about society and some of its strange and peculiar behaviors. Whether it’s the rate of people incarcerated in prison or the number of people involved in traffic accidents in the United States, statistics reveal trends and patterns that cannot be disputed, cannot be contested with any logical reasoning. Cold, hard facts sometimes can be tough to accept—especially when they hit close to home with family, friends, and even loved ones.

This rings true with cell phones and car crashes. 

Statistically in 2015, the increase in traffic deaths in the United States reached its highest in more than 50 years, with the National Safety Council estimating 38,300 people were killed and 4.4 million injured on U.S. roads. These insane figures may not even be accurate enough, due to the nature of the accidents and those involved, either living or dead. What lacks in these figures is the level of “distraction” these drivers had before the accident. It’s hard to pinpoint at what level, if any, how technology may have played a role in these accidents and/or traffic fatalities.

There’s no denying how cell phones are influencing driving habits and challenging driving skills. Some studies—like the ones performed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety—reveal teenagers perceiving “in-vehicle tasks such as cell phone use to involve less risk, and they had higher opinions of their ability to multitask.”

There is very little known about distracted teenage driving. Not many studies can capture the true impact of their habits and their contribution to ongoing traffic accidents and deaths in the United States. Young drivers are among the strongest users of cell phone technology (including smartphones and handheld tablets), and they tend to be early adopters and aggressive users of the latest digital fads. Moreover, their deep desires to reach for and use technology—while in the act of driving—seem to be natural. They tend to believe multitasking and quadruple tasking behind the wheel to be a regular experience of driving, although their “driver’s education” tests don’t promote or suggest the use of technology by any means.

Compared to adult drivers, teenagers’ brains are still developing in areas like regulatory competence, decision making, and forming solid judgments. They also lack years of driving skills, including sporadic driving conditions that build confidence, poise, and good judgment.

What’s the missing link into all these traffic deaths? It cannot all be related to the driving skills and abilities of teenager drivers alone. There must be more to it than that? And there is. Technology is overloading the driver’s abilities to maneuver the vehicle. Every vehicle manufactured in the last five years is full of ground-breaking technology. This massive list includes the following: Bluetooth and wireless capabilities, built-in USB ports, keyless access and start-up, app integration, natural speech voice recognition, remote vehicle management, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and pre-collision systems, lane keepings assists, embedded telematics (features like automatic crash response, stolen vehicle notification, roadside assistance, and live concierge services). As one can see, this list is only about the vehicle, not the driver. If you add the complexity of cell phone usage and other means of technology utilized by today’s drivers, it begins to develop a clear picture as to why traffic accidents and deaths are going to spiral out of control in the years ahead.

Technology always pushes boundaries. One may say: Who actually drives today’s vehicles? Real people or technology? That’s a valid question. Think of it this way: the pattern of reported traffic accidents in the last few years seems to be building into a trend of unnecessary deaths and avoidable accidents. Defensive driving may help, but it’s not the cure. Passing new texting laws with large fines will not help. It’s really in the development of future vehicles from car manufacturers. They are the ones promoting, praising and pushing more technology into our driving experiences. Government officials don’t understand; they don’t care; it’s all about the next best thing, not the safety and value of human life.

Sometimes, cold, hard facts can be tough to accept.

Author's Note: The rate of car crashes involving cell phones are on the rise. Combine this fact with the increase in technology inside the car port area, and you'll begin to understand what state of affairs our world is in. Today's driver has a multitude of options at his or her disposal. We can only blame the manufacturers and their designers for requiring more sophistication behind the wheel, more options that require quick and often complex decision making skills, leading any driver to a potential life or death situation.

Check out this interesting little read: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Newsflash: Windows 10 Pushes Users Forward

Microsoft is up to its old tricks again—which always spells trouble in a digital world. It’s now pushing Windows 10 on all users before the July 29, 2016 deadline. At that point, Windows 10 will no longer be free to the public, and it’ll cost you $100 for a license.

Is this Microsoft’s Public Relations Department sending out the wrong memo to the public? Or is this some type of marketing scheme to get users to comply with the latest standards of technology? Whatever the case may be, it’s pushing users forward in a time when everything in the computer industry is rapidly changing—and not for the better. Users are unaware and uninformed of what’s happening. In fact, in the last week or so, users are waking up to find their Windows software converting over to Windows 10 in the middle of the night. And remember, users had clicked off the update for months and months, but on this particular day, there were no options, no selections, no cancel button, and no X to click.

This “forced” upgrade trick has lead Microsoft to issue a warning to all Windows 7 and 8 users about the Get Windows 10 dialog box: “Based on customer feedback, we’ve also added another notification that confirms the time of the scheduled upgrade and provides the customer an additional opportunity for cancelling or rescheduling the upgrade. If the customer wishes to continue with their upgrade at the designated time, they can click ‘OK’ or close the notifications with no further action needed.”

But that doesn’t solve the issue. Microsoft is forcing users—done in a sneaky, passive way—to comply with something that they didn’t purchase or want. This issue goes deeper than just a dialog box with a series of choices. It’s a part of a movement that’s been years and years in the making, and it’s finally peaking its head and gaining media attention. There’s a name for this movement: it’s called digital socialism. Yes, digital socialism is a way to control the public and keep them in-line with the same levels of standard technology across the board. Many individuals and businesses are slowly being forced to comply with what the industry desires and wishes everyone to be at, not what users want. There’s financial gain and prosperity involved with this movement, along with jobs and positions that are at-risk when the public denies to move forward with each technological breakthrough.

Here’s something to consider: software versions. Software versions are what drives technology forward. Even the next invention needs new technology to make it operate and to be a success. You don’t want users facing blue and black screens while operating their latest gadgets, do you? To keep things moving forward, every software product on the planet releases new software versions, and it seems that these versions are on the rise. For example, Mozilla and Google Chrome offer software updates once every month. 

It is true that technology is updating fast and furious. Think about apps. Apps that are on smartphones, computers, smart TVs, and mini tablets. Apps are extremely popular in social and media software development. Without apps, there would be no industry revenue and no foot traffic to websites. App development helps sustain the life of a website and interest in the Internet. You can see more apps popping up every day in television commercials, with online marketplaces, in YouTube vloggers videos (people who film their lives and distribute it over the Internet), and in apps with the Windows 10 environment.

Is this digital socialism movement taking users in the wrong direction, leading them into an uneducated, unwilling and uncaring position? The more change you force upon the pubic, the worse the image becomes of the technology and the product being offered. The common, happy user isn’t ready for sharp changes in their behaviors and comfortable ways. It’s hard enough to tell people about the next best thing, and it’s almost impossible to get them to do it. One fact still remains: people don’t like change; people don’t like forced change; and people don’t care to be pushed around by corporate businesses, flaunting their personal needs and wants. People want a system that works, that’s reliable, and that does the job without any complications or difficulties.

Microsoft is up to its old tricks—which always spells disaster on a significant scale. This time, however, users are smart to recognize the trend—it’s about money and control. They won’t be fooled as easily this time as with past products and upgrades. Users will resist and reject any reason to move forward; it’s a natural position; and they know it’s not the best way to do business. Users are smart, frugal, and expect good service, not tricks.

Author's Note: This whole development comes as no surprise. Forcing change upon users is the last thing Microsoft should be doing. They should focus their time and energy on simplifying their products, returning to their roots to make a system that is simple, safe, effective, and easy to operate. It's what users want; it's a simple request gone unnoticed in the past ten years of software development. We can only hope that one day they might listen to our request.

Check out this interesting little read: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

You Know You Are Living In 2016 when…

1.    Your car speaks to you in 17 languages.

2.    You haven't written your name in years.

3.    Anything on paper (with your name on it) is becoming a threat to your identity.

4.    You spend vast amounts of time shredding everything you don’t want others to see—including email.

5.    Every shopping mall is turning into a super-sized car lot.

6.    Your cable bill is rising, while your smartphone is telling you how to live.

7.    You only talk to people at funeral homes, not on the streets.

8.    Microsoft is getting desperate for your money, because new versions help renew their limited cash flow.

9.    Every commercial sells amazing products you could really live without.

10.    Exercise has turned into a fad, not something you do for the good of yourself.

11.    Your tax return is stored in a digital cloud controlled by the government.

12.    The word “Kardashian” defines a cultural event you live with every day: a reality-filled world of excess living, self-centeredness, social awkwardness, zero privacy, and no talent.

13.    The government tracks your every move: driving in your car, sitting at a book store, texting on your phone, sending an email, posting on Facebook, and walking in the woods—altogether eliminating your freedom. 

14.    You can say “bombs” or “president” or “terrorism” on a digital device, but there’s someone out there who wants to know why.

15.    You Google each informational fact, figure, statistic and idea every time you get stumped, professing to others that you knew it all along.

Author's Note: It's interesting to note how technology dominates a list of facts that will forever change the landscape of American living. And if you read "between the lines," you get a feeling that our future may not be as bright as our past.

Check out this interesting little read: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Digital Voicemail: Is this the End?

In a rapidly changing world, digital voicemail systems seem archaic and out of touch in modern times. In fact, some people avoid listening to their own voicemail messages. No one has sufficient time to listen to a host of old messages and delete them one at a time. With the instantaneous satisfaction of email, text messaging, and social media, immediate responses are guaranteed from users. According to a survey done by eVoice in 2013, a provider of virtual phone services, found that only 33 percent of people listen to their voicemail from business contacts.

Experts do agree: digital voicemail is really on the decline.

In my own experience (some 22 years of computer consulting), I met a client who proved this point to me. For more than a year, Patty (for lack of a better name) hadn’t set up her voicemail system. She had been telling her friends that she couldn’t receive her voicemail messages, and she told them not to leave any. But, of course, people trusted their gut instinct. When the “beep” tone went off, most of her friends started talking, babbling some incoherent message about an irrelevant event or personal issue.

And so the voicemail messages began.

The discovery of these messages came when Patty received a new phone. The AT&T phone had a traditional built-in answering machine, meaning callers could leave a message and she could listen to it later. I tested that theory by calling her number and leaving a message. After I hung up, the total messages equaled zero. But I left a message. Where did it go? Because of U-Verse technology, Patty’s voicemail messages were being stored in the phone system, not to the new answering machine. When I told her this fact, Patty stated, “I’ve been receiving calls for over a year, but I never get any messages. I always tell my friends it isn’t working.”

Almost all modern voicemail systems use digital storage and are typically stored on computer data storage. Notification methods also vary based on the voice-mail system. Simple systems may not provide active notification at all, instead requiring the recipient to check with the system, while others may provide an indication that messages are waiting. In Patty’s case, the only indication she had of a message was the beeping sound the phone made before it went to dial tone. And because she couldn’t understand what that meant, a host of new messages were recorded, almost every day, for over a year.

Once we dialed the *98 sequence with AT&T and set up her account, messages started playing. There were 110 messages to go through, which took about 45 minutes to finish. The early messages were long-winded, detailed, and well thought. But as time went along, they became more short and blunt: “You know how it is: I call you and you never call me back.” Or this classic message: “Is there something wrong? Are you in the hospital? I came by your place and no one was home.” One message said, in a digital voice, “Goodbye.” Patty and I laughed and chuckled the whole time as we listened to the tone and desperation in these voices. It even brought tears to our eyes.

Patty even had calls for dinner invitations, prayer lines, and callback requests. Patty didn’t respond to any of them—for over a year! Her friends must have thought the worst of her.

But in the end, corporations do keep voicemail recordings for long periods of time—longer than you may think. I mean, honestly, would they keep them for five years? Probably so. It makes you wonder what else corporations hide, like emails and private website data to be opened and examined in the future.

Regardless, voicemail technology is on its way out. Give it another 10 to 20 years. Even though Patty’s case may be an exception to the rule, not everyone uses voicemail (or, for that matter, faxes). With the advent of texting and email, information is passed around in a timely, swift manner. It doesn’t require any special hardware; just a smartphone or tablet will do.

It’s your world. It’s digital. It’s evolving. And leaving a voice message will be replaced by something even greater, leaving you with more things to manage and more things to potentially lose.

Author's Note: Voicemail is being replaced by texting and Facebook instant messages. In time, you'll see the downfall of voicemail, with no fireworks, media coverage, hoopla, or anything else you consider a "bon voyage" of this service. It's archaic and out-dated; it's time is soon to end. Guaranteed.

Check out this interesting little read: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.