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Echo Flex — Maybe the Best Echo You’ve Never Heard (of)

Amazon Echo FlexI’m guessing the Amazon Flex is probably being  returned in large numbers. Which is unfortunate. There’s really nothing wrong with the product, I fact it’s awesome! However, it may not fit the perception of what an Echo device should be.

You may have noticed a not too subtle pun in the title. So, let’s address the Flex’s biggest shortcoming — the speaker. It’s okay for listening to Alexa’s speech. Horrible for music. If your idea of an Echo device is that you’re going to communicate from across the room, listen to some music, and control devices. You’ll be 1/3 happy.

So why buy a Flex with a tin(n)y little speaker? First reason is the price. You can buy one right now on Amazon for $9.99, shipped free with Prime. However, because a good percentage of these are likely being returned, there appears to be an ample supply in the Amazon Warehouse from only $6.99 Amazon.com: Buying Choices: Echo Flex – Plug-in mini smart speaker with Alexa

Second reason, there’s no external adapter. There’s a built-in plug on the back and adapter inside. Which means this Echo can go places others can’t. There’s also a USB-A port on the bottom. Not only could this be used to charge your phone, it could power a Bluetooth speaker.

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Can’t get an Xbox One Series S/X? Upgrade your old one!

There are plenty of stories about people refreshing their web browser for hours, only to find an anticipated shipment of Xbox One Series S or Series X selling out online in seconds. Easy to understand why when they are selling for twice the price on the secondary market. It and the Sony PS5 are the hottest gifts this season.

We could argue whether you should buy a new generation console at launch. The lack of games, software and hardware bugs, an expected price drop — but that’s for another article. If you’re one of the few lucky enough to get a next generation console, the first thing you’ll probably notice is faster loading times. What if you could get your Xbox One S or X to load games faster? Help ease the pain of having to watch all the videos of lightning fast load times on new consoles.

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Why I Still Teach Malware Removal

When Microsoft introduced Windows 10, it used the tagline “The most secure Windows ever – and built to stay that way”. In a perfect world, everyone would now be running on Windows 10 and enjoying the enhanced security features that are included. This is real life, however, and that’s not how it works. There are still millions of PCs running Windows XP, four years after Microsoft ended support for the product, and millions more than that running Windows 7. Aryeh Goretsky, a researcher for ESET, states in a white paper that the number of computers “…running Windows XP has stayed about the same over the last few quarters at around 5.5 percent.  While that may not sound like much, it means there may be somewhat over 80 million computers out there still using Windows XP.” ComputerWorld estimates that at the end of 2019, just a year from Windows 7’s retirement, an estimated 47% of Windows computers will still use that OS.

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Yoast SEO, do you need to be green? Content analysis and importance.

Yoast SEO is not only one of the most popular WordPress plugins, but one of the most popular WordPress plugins overall. One of the reasons WordPress powers a 1/4 of all websites (and growing) is that is has pretty good SEO out-of-the-box. Yoast succeeds in making a good thing better.

If you were just to install the plugin, and forget about it. You’d still see benefit. Yoast rewrites page titles, and creates an XML sitemap for search engines. Beginners often get hung up on Yoast’s mechanism for grading your SEO per post. It works like this. You specify a keyword (only one with the free edition), and then it displays the colors of a stoplight to rank your post; red, yellow and green. It’s tempting to tweak every post until you have all green lights. Like a deserted street at 3am.

Yoast has “live” recommendations, that change with your content. So we can’t cover every recommendation here. Let’s review some of Yoast’s most common content analysis recommendations, and see which are worthy of your time.

Yoast content analysis

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Beware the Facebook Urban Myths

 

If you have a Facebook account, you’ve probably seen, or shared, at least one urban myth. Maybe it’s this image:

100_shares_heart_transplantOr this:

Today, 12/01/2014 in response to the Facebook guidelines and under articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal songs, lyrics, literary excerpts, data, drawings, paintings, photos, texts etc… published on my profile. For commercial use of the foregoing my written consent is required at all times……

Or even this:

I just found out that should you ever be forced to withdraw monies from an ATM machine, you can notify the police by entering your Pin # in reverse. The machine will still give you the monies you requested, but unknown to the robber, etc, the police will be immediately dispatched to help you.
The broadcast stated that this method of calling the police is very seldom used because people don’t know it exist, and it might mean the difference between life and death. Hopefully, none of you will have to use this, but I wanted to pass it along just in case you hadn’t heard of it. Please pass it along to everyone possible.

There is no validity to any of these posts, and none of them are new.  In fact, the third one started circulating in an email as early as 2006, before migrating to Facebook. The first one has been circulating since at least 2010. The Facebook privacy one surfaces in a new form every time Facebook announces changes to its privacy policy. These are just a sample of the many myths that are out there. All of these have been discredited, and the validity can be easily checked. The next time you see a Facebook status like that, stop and think about it. How will sharing a picture 100 times provide a free heart transplant? If entering a PIN backwards would summon police, don’t you think that information might actually be shared by your bank? Who decided stating your rights in a Facebook status would provide any legal protection whatsoever? (For the record, you agree to Facebook’s Terms and Conditions when you create an account. Stating otherwise publicly doesn’t change anything).

While it’s not possible to completely stop these things from circulating, you can become part of the solution. Don’t blindly share or post anything just because everyone else is. It’s possible to quickly check whether a post is valid or not. I use Snopes.com to check these items out. For example, here’s the Snopes link debunking the backwards ATM  PIN myth. If the story isn’t true, don’t spread it. While there’s not necessarily anything malicious about these myths, there’s no point in perpetuating them. Your friends will probably thank you for having a little less clutter in their feed, too.

Robots, Humans and the Future of Jobs

Robots are fact and no longer science fiction. Robotics technology we have in development NOW is going to greatly impact our jobs and economy. This issue is creeping up on us quickly, but experts are split on their opinions about how it will affect jobs. Historically, new technology created new jobs to replace those it displaced, but this time it might be very different. All the rules go out the window when technological acceleration reaches a certain point.

If you haven’t seen this video, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time:

And if you’re really interested, here’s a longer read from the Pew Research Institute: AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs [pdf]

Can robots and artificial intelligence replace your job?

Heartbleed–Things you should know and what you can do about it

 

What Is It?

By now I’m certain you’ve heard of the Heartbleed bug. If you haven’t, then you should know that it is a flaw found in one of the most common open source SSL implementations on the internet that COULD allow an attacker to get sensitive information from the web server. A successful attack could expose the server’s SSL private keys that would allow the attacker to decrypt the data traveling to the site, such as usernames and passwords.

As of now there have been no confirmed attacks using this bug, but an exploit of the bug is completely untraceable so there’s no way to be certain if a site has been targeted.

Places to learn more:
General information
LastPass and the Heartbleed Bug
How Heartbleed Works: The Code Behind the Internet’s Security Nightmare

How can you tell if a site is affected?

First, you need to figure out how vulnerable your data might be. There are several  lists of vulnerable sites that you can manually search through and several online tools that can be used to check specific sites (lastpass and SSL Labs have two particularly useful tools, linked below). There is a Chrome extension that can help identify vulnerable sites as you visit them. The folks at www.Mashable.com have a “hit list” of sorts that lists several sites that they have had direct communication with and recommendations as to what you should do to protect yourself on those sites.

Since Google’s Android operating system is built on open source principles, it is heavily integrated with OpenSSL so any Android device may be vulnerable to this bug as well. Lookout Security has developed a tool to check your device for vulnerability (linked below). If your device is vulnerable you will have to wait for an update for the device.

How can you protect yourself now and in the future?

Once you’ve identified what sites you’ve used that contain sensitive information, you need to change your passwords. You should make sure that they have patched their systems before you change your password for good but many experts are saying that you should change the passwords now just to be sure that any data captured in the last 2 years is safe.

Many systems online were not affected at all because they run on server platforms that don’t use OpenSSL (like Microsoft IIS). These sites have not been compromised by this bug and you should make your own judgment as to whether or not you should change your passwords. If you have used the same username and password combination on an unaffected site as you have on an affected site, you should change your password on both, and make sure they’re different this time.

If you have two factor authentication in place (which you should on any service that supports it) you are at an advantage since even if someone has your username and password they don’t have your second authentication method (typically an app or a text to your mobile phone). You should probably still consider changing your passwords on these sites to be safe.

If you use a password manager (like LastPass or Keepass) then you should most likely regenerate new passwords for your important sites. If you’re using LastPass, they have updated their app to include a tool that will automatically alert you of the Heartbleed status of any sites that you have saved or generated passwords for and give you suggestions as to when you should change their respective passwords.

You should never use the same logon and password for two important sites (like your banking site and your email). If you are using the same information on multiple sites that are important to you, you should change them now so that they are different.

The best thing you can do is not panic and stay aware of the current status of this bug. Keep checking the status of your frequently visited SSL enabled websites and if any of your important sites aren’t patching their systems, find a different company to do business with.

XP End of Support Popup Notifications Start March 8th (tomorrow)

Windows XP End of Support is on April 8th, 2014. Click Here to learn more.

Don’t show this message again

xp-popup

Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP, and it’s about to let every XP user know. On Saturday March 8th, and then the 8th of every month after, XP users will see the popup window shown above (unless they tick don’t show again). Many users may mistake this warning for a fake security alert, often used to trick people into installing malware. But this one is legitimate. Any computer connecting to Windows Update will display it. Most enterprise computers won’t, as they don’t get updates directly from Windows Update.

There are two more patch Tuesday’s left for XP, and then Windows Update will no longer offer updates for what may be the most successful operating system of all time. Many experts are predicting a spike in XP related malware as vulnerabilities go unpatched. Amazingly, XP still has a 29% market share. Not sure if you have XP? There’s a website for that: http://amirunningxp.com/

There is no direct upgrade from XP to Windows 7 or 8. However, Laplink has a free migration tool called PCmover Express that will help transfer files, settings, and profiles. If you want to also transfer programs, there’s a special offer on the professional version ($23.95).

Are you still running Windows XP? Will you be upgrading? What are you going to upgrade to?

Phonebloks

Phonebloks

Phonebloks is a Thunderclap project started by Dutch Engineer David Hakken that might just be the next big thing in the mobile industry. A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Even if just a part of it failed us, we’ll have to make it an expensive paper weight.  Phonebloks is all about solving this problem, in an unusual, yet innovative and possibly viable way. Phonebloks is made of detachable bloks. The bloks are connected to the base which locks everything together into a solid phone. If a blok breaks you can easily replace it; if it’s getting old just upgrade. David Hakken has publicized this project as an attempt to reduce e-Waste.

And guess what it has a store all for itself. The Blokstore. It’s like an app store for hardware. In the store you buy your bloks, read reviews and sell old bloks.

Motorola has shown keen interest in Phonebloks. The company’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team went public with its one-year-old Ara Project (it’s own version of upgradable smartphones) after agreeing earlier this month to partner with Phonebloks. Now with Hakken as its new face, Motorola’s Ara project aims to bring some substance to Hakken’s arguable pipe dream, and “do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software.”

Motorola Project Ara

Project Ara

Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, told CNN that while the Phonebloks concept is ‘well-meaning’ he suspects it will never become a reality: “the main reason that the Phonebloks will not hit the market as it will cost more, be bigger and heavier, and be less reliable. By the time it could be brought to market, the problem that engendered it will be gone.”

He might be right, but there’s always two sides to a coin.

Why I think it could work?

  1. People love customizing their phones! The time of software upgrades, rooting & jailbreaking could be history.
  2. If it’s physically possible, it might be bigger than the huge leap forward Capacitive touch screens were, when they first arrived.
  3. As a student, we can get tight on the pocket, we could settle for the default and upgrade later!

Why I think it might not work?

  1. The phone could get too bulky
  2. It might succeed as a concept, but to surpass the impact that the iPhone or Galaxy’s have in day to day work might be too much of a task.
  3. Google Play is a key factor to the success of Android. As for the Blokstore, a store with a very small number of bloks could lead its way to doom. I don’t think there could be bloks enough to satisfy consumer needs.
  4. It will be as expensive as hell.

Let’s see where it goes from here.

Blokstore

How to Avoid Toolbars, Unwanted Software and Other Installer Tricks

Non-technical friends and relatives have two universal truths regarding computers. One, they have toolbars, background software, coupon offers, and/or search engine redirects. Two, they have no idea how they got there. Most likely, they installed them. Even if you are technically inclined, you’ve probably still been trapped by Dark User Interface Patters.

A Dark Pattern is a type of user interface that appears to have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

Downloading software and updates is a minefield of unwanted software. Scott Hanselman details the confusing experience offered by download wrappers.

I am disappointed in us, Internet, that this is a business. Someone wrote this, for their job, directed by their middle manager, who was directed by their rich boss. There was a meeting (there’s always a meeting) where it was discussed on how we could most effectively fool non-technical relatives into installing crap.

These techniques are well-honed and tested. Even experienced users can install stuff they don’t want. So what’s the average user to do? Here are some applications that aim to help avoid unwanted installs.

  • Ninite will automatically install popular apps. Great for setting up a new system. Pros: It won’t bother you with choices and options. It says no to all toolbars and junkware. To update, you simply run it again. Cons: If you add an application you need to rebuild the installer. Automatic updates require the paid version. Limited applications (some like CCleaner, and Adobe Flash have “opted-out)”.

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