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Pencil Shavings. Wet hay. Touch of mold.
Sound as appetizing as a wet shoe, right?

The above are actually wine tasting notes, and yes, some wines do taste like pencil shavings…and that is not a bad thing.

Many apps, such as “The Daily Grape” (free on Apple), make wine drinking and tasting fun. Leave all the pretension in Bordeaux France, where it belongs.

Host Gary Vaynerchuk is rather silly, but if you can get past his car salesman like demeanor, and the fact the he talks really fast, like warp speed fast, this guy knows his wine.

If I was not sure he was talking about wine, I would think we were sitting in a bar arguing Orr VS. Gretzky. Orr. I digress.

The app is fun. There is nothing wrong with having fun while tasting wine.

 

Another free app, not as fun, but for more of the purist, is “Drync Wine”

I like this one. Under the “cellar” section you can add wines that you have drank, that you currently own, and bottles that you want.

It has a “Top Wines” list in case you just want to be told what to buy.

You can earn a badge VIA the “Vinpass” by tasting two or more wines within the Valley of your choice. Keep score; try to out slurp your friends!

Of course, the best wine is the one you like to drink.

Currently, I love swirling the “Petite Red” from Sakonnet Wineries in Little Compton Rhode Island.

If you have not seen the BIG beautiful of LITTLE Compton, you are missing something indeed.

Find a winery near you.

Be well

The insanity

I just finished reading an article about a murder case in Tennessee involving a case where the couple deleted the daughter of someone from their Facebook friends list and were murdered because of it.

I later went on to read another Facebook incident where a man hit his wife in Texas because his wife did not “like” one of his Facebook posts he wrote about the anniversary of his mother’s death.

My God! What are we coming to as a society?

How things have changed

I believe that one of the worst and best things that has occurred with today’s society is the advent of social networking. It has allowed those who are not close physically to be a part of people’s lives. However, as with all things it has also allowed those who you would never want to communicate with to open a dialog… whether you want to hear it or not.

Change AheadIt has allowed predators (child and psychotic) a means to track down and hunt people. Many of these services have not come up with a strong enough method to lock down certain aspects of social networking. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to lock down most of these, but there are also ways to get around the lock downs.

In years past (before the Internet), for those who can remember that far back… Socializing involved getting your clothes on and leaving your house. Meeting at bars, sports clubs, parks, movie theaters and such. It is healthy to physically interact with people. I recall when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, going to the French Market and walking around as a teen and simply “hanging out”. Today, people spend hours upon hours in front of the computer “chatting” and “interacting” in a virtual way, never leaving their house or if they do spending countless hours on their smart-phone doing the same interaction. I went into a mall near where I live last week, I saw about a dozen teens hanging out in an area near Best Buy, two of them were talking and all the rest were typing away on their smart-phones.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Let’s look at what technology has done to us socially:

Pros

  • It has brought distance families together
  • It has allowed us to reconnect with people we haven’t heard from in years
  • It has allowed those who are not able to leave their home to interact with the world
  • It has provided a means for people to research others for safety purposes
  • It has provided a means for businesses to reach out to people at a low cost of advertising
  • It has allowed us to communicate instantly when the need is there
  • It has allows us to share things like music, video and photos where otherwise it would be difficult or nearly impossible to do so.

Cons

  • It has allowed people to research you when you would prefer to be more private
  • It has allowed people to find you that perhaps you didn’t want to talk to
  • It allows others to pass on videos or photos that you may have wanted to remain only between yourself and a few others
  • It has allowed predators an easy means to hunt down children
  • It has allowed stalkers an easy means to hunt down people
  • It has created an environment where people don’t need to leave the house to socialize
  • It has created an expectation of instant communication
  • It has made it easier for people with addictions to feed their addictions

 

The breaking pointThe Breaking Point

The sad thing is, I believe that we as a society are not going to do much about our decline of physical interaction until things reach the breaking point. A point at which the events taking place are so insane or over the top that a few key individuals who can actually do something about it step back and say “What on earth is going on here? We need to stop it now.”

Only then will we reach a point that we can reach a balance. I just hope we can find a way to reach that balance before we reach the breaking point.

What are your thoughts?

Frequently my small business clients have asked me, “Do I need a server for my business? What kind should I get? How many should I get?”

These are all complicated questions. In short, it really depends on what type of business you have. If you have a business with 2+ computers / devices on your network that are used for the purpose of serving customers or clients, then I would say the answer is ‘yes’.

Why could I need a server?

Here is my reasoning:

  • It’s a good idea to have files centralized in one location, that way no matter what computer you are at, you can access them.
  • It allows (in most cases) for added security and authentication procedures that you can’t get from a work-group (non-server) network.
  • It allows for a central location for files to be backed up from. Whether you are using an online backup software or a removable media (such as a removable hard drive), it’s a very good practice to have one place that is responsible for backing up the files.
  • Redundancy. This is a little complicated. I’ll explain this below.

Redundancy? How?

If you are at your desk, helping a client and working on a file and (given that your network administrator setup your network and applications correctly) you should power, or your computer crashes, you will not lose what you are working on. Why? Because:

  • Your application will have been set to auto-save to your network drive every xx seconds.
  • Your local (computer at your desk) PC will not be responsible for actually housing the files, the server will be.

How is a server different than a PC?

Basically, a server is a PC on steroids. It has faster processors (brains), more memory (RAM) and usually more stable and roomy storage space (Hard drive). Because of these features as well as in most cases; redundant (multiple) power supplies and a solid UPS (battery backup) it will be a work horse for your environment.

How many servers do I need?

That all depends on you. If you are a small insurance office doing nothing but creating word processing documents, then you really don’t need more than one server. Whereas if you are an engineering firm that designs CAD (computer aided design) drawings, houses your own internal email, internal website with complicated rendering capabilities; then you are going to need more than one server.

For a question like this, contact me (it’s free) and I’ll give you my own two cents on what I think you will need.

 

I normally never post images that people forward me, but I received a nice little collection of yesterday vs. today in technology and decided I had to share them with our readers.

Every once in a while we need a little humor (or is it humorous?).

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I can see a trail marker just up ahead”, I say aloud to no one. Mud has caked my boots, making my trek harder than it should be. Still, if this is the Northwest trail, and I make good time, I should be out of the woods before nightfall. My pace quickens.

Back to Nature“hey-uuna”! “hey-uuna”! What was that???!!

It’s my cell phone. My husband wants to know if he should pick up Indian on his was home. I answer meekly, brought back to the real world
“Cool, get some wine too”

Technology: The best, and the worst thing to happen to the outdoor enthusiast.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that my husband can track me when I am out for a long hike, or trail run, VIA the GPS in my cell…it’s just not very “Lewis and Clark” I have been a prisoner of www.mapmyrun.com for years, because surely a run must be recorded for it to count. Right?

Also, and I am at loath to admit, I have worn a heart rate monitor and watch while hiking The Rockies just so I could track the miles in order to enter the workout on my “Daily Burn” app. Never mind the pristine Rockies, the fresh air, the humbling affect that nature has on me. No, I need to know how many calories I’ve burned, so I know how many beers I can have and where to get them, thanks to “beer mapping”.

Still, we could all use more “woods time”, as I call it. Feel the leaves crunch beneath our feet. Take long drags of cold, fresh air into our lungs. Climb on rocks green with moss.

Get out there. Get moving. Check out your local and national parks.

Be well and be connected

Foster ChildrenBeing a parent with children using technology is difficult enough, being a foster parent to a child using technology adds a whole different level of complexity to your responsibilities.

I also recommend you read: Protecting your children on Facebook – The Battle

There are some of the problems that foster parents face that differ from biological children:

The Security Blanket

It can be very difficult and scary being a foster child, moving from place to place, without any solid ‘home’ environment. Many foster children own Internet capable technology that has been given to them by previous foster parents, their biological parents or their friends or family. Often times, this technology is their only link between the life they knew and their friends. They tend to live their life through Facebook, twitter and email. Breaking them or taking them away from their “tethers” will only cause harm to them and to your ability as a foster parent to work and build trust with them. However, the fact that they are living under your house and your parental guidance puts you as a foster parent in the position of having to be responsible for where they go on the Net, who they meet up with and who is trying to get in touch with them.

Technology Inventory & Monitoring over Blocking

As a foster parent of a new foster child your instincts are to immediately block anything that could potentially harmful to your new foster child. I recommend resisting that urge. If you cut them off from their normal chatting / browsing / emailing habits, you will only force them to go somewhere where they can access it and then you won’t have control over the situation. My advice is to take the following action for any new foster child that comes into the house:

  • Inventory: Lay down a “Technology Inventory” policy. The child must tell you about ALL technology that they own. Down to the smallest MP3 player, set of headphones, everything. Sit down with them and write a list of it.
  • Research: On your own, research each piece of technology (or contact me) and find out what is Internet capable, what isn’t and what can have monitoring software installed on.
  • Monitor: Install (with or without their knowledge, that’s up to you) a monitoring software on any Internet capable device that can be monitored.
    The monitoring software should ideally:
    • Log all keystrokes
    • Take screen shots (pictures of their desktop environment)
    • Remote monitoring capabilities (ability for you to check on it without actually getting on the technology
    • History logging (recording of websites visited, etc.)
  • Approach: Your goal is not to pick apart your foster child with every nuance of activity they do. They should have an implied feeling of privacy. Only if they are browsing an area they shouldn’t be or having an inappropriate conversation or communicating with someone they shouldn’t be, should you then step in and approach them.
  • A spoonful of sugar goes a long way: If you have to approach your foster child about questionable material, do not come down on them like a ton of bricks. Sit down and have a calm conversation with them. Explain to them that you are concerned for their well being, not that they are doing something wrong. If the timing is right, let them know that you do keep tabs on what they do so that you know they are safe and that is the only purpose. Let them know that you do not violate their private conversations or talk to anyone about what you discover.
  • If it’s illegal, deal with it: It can be very scary to discover that a person you brought in your home is doing illegal activity. Talk to your DSS worker first and if needed, pull in the police but wait to talk to the child until you have confirmed your suspicions. You do not want to jump head first into boiling water.

Some Internet capable devices that can be monitored:

  • Windows and Mac laptops and desktops
  • iPhones, Droid phones
  • XBox & XBox 360
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Nintendo DS
  • SonyPS3

 

 

 

 

Facebook and Social Websites

Facebook began as a college-only website where students could talk to each other about classes and issues. Users could only have profiles associated with their college, using their school email address to log in and browse their own network of students. The site expanded to allow high school students and eventually anyone to create profiles, causing parents to wonder about its safety.

FacebookI have taught for years on how to monitor children’s activities, record activities so that parents can ensure that the children are safe. I have recently begun trying to find out if there is a way for parents to “Administrate” their children’s Facebook page.

Now as a Network Administrator for a company, you have the capabilities to access all systems. There is a level of understood privacy and secrecy involved in being a Network Administrator. To violate that trust and “hack” into a users’s files without their permission is not only a violation of your job as a Network Administrator, but it’s also against the law in many cases. It’s a line I never step over.

However, being a parent is a whole different issue. You are responsible for that child, from the moment they are born, until (at least legally) they turn 18. In the event of working as a foster parent there is an even greater responsibility, because you need to rapidly attempt to help a child, protect your own children from whatever dangers the foster child may present and protect yourself.

For these very reasons, there is (and I quote from law enforcement) “No expectation of privacy with children under 18, no exceptions”. I know that sounds cruel and a violation of privacy that your teen or preteen wants… but you cannot protect your child if you don’t know what they are doing.

If you live on a large property and your child is going outside to play, you expect to know where they are going, what they will be doing and when they will be back. It’s a matter of you being a responsible parent. Why should it be any different for online activities? It shouldn’t.

Lack of Administrative functions for parents

This brings to light one of my biggest complaints with social websites. There is virtually NO administrative rights for parents with social websites.

Child onlineThere is nothing wrong with kids being on Facebook, or other social websites. It allows them to be in contact with their friends and family, to voice thier opinion and to be at least partially independent. The problem with Facebook (and many other social websites) is that now with the privacy lock-down capabilities from within the child’s Facebook account, even if a parent “friends” their child, the child has the capability to exclude what that parent sees. This is very wrong in my opinion.

I think that Facebook and other sites should have the capability for a parent to “declare” themselves as a child’s parent (through documentation) and then Facebook grant that parent administrative rights (The ability to see what their child is doing REGARDLESS of the privacy lock-downs that the child does). Again, there is NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY for a child you are responsible for under the age of 18.

Monitoring

Yes, you can monitor what your child does by putting monitoring software on thier computer and getting their username and passwords (assuming they will give them to you). But that, I think, steps over the bounds on perceived privacy. However, it does help you to protect your child as long as you don’t abuse it.

I will see what other information I can get on Facebook administrative rights as time progresses.

So… Stay tuned.

Face Recognition

In recent years Laptop manufactures have been opting for facial recognition software to unlock and lock your computer when you sit down at it as an alternative to fingerprint scanners. Do not believe Facial Recognition Softwarethe hype of the facial recognition software. It is definitely NOT as safe as fingerprint readers. Not only does it not communicate effectivly with the security portions of the operating system, it is extremely easy to fool by simply holding up a picture of you or by using a pulsing light (Courtesy DefCon: http://gizmodo.com/5330196/defcon-badge-hack-fools-facial-recognition-systems-with-pulsing-light).

Why have manufactures been turning to Facial Recognition?

Their primary reason is, they are already almost always offering a built in webcam. So it’s one less peice of hardware to include with a laptop system. Also, it may not sound like a lot of money, but the fingerprint readers cost them on average $50-90 to install, whereas the webcam only costs them roughly $15-20. Granted, they usually pass that cost on to the consumer.

———————————————

Here is an article relating to the dangers or facial recognition software:

(http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9128264/Laptop_face_recognition_tech_easy_to_hack_warns_Black_Hat_researcher)

Computerworld – WASHINGTON — The face-recognition technologies offered by some laptop vendors as a way for users to securely log onto their systems are deeply flawed and can be relatively easily bypassed, a security researcher warned today at the Black Hat security conference here.

Nguyen Minh Duc, a researcher at Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Centre, a Hanoi-based security firm that is commonly known as Bkis, showed how attackers could break into laptops from Lenovo, Toshiba and Asus featuring face-recognition technologies, simply by using digitized images of the actual user of the systems in each case. The attacks were conducted on a Lenovo system with its Veriface III technology, an Asus system featuring its Smart Logon software and a laptop using Toshiba’s Face Recognition technology.

The attacks are possible because the underlying technology used by the vendors for face authentication can be easily fooled — meaning it cannot be trusted for secure log-on purposes, Minh Duc said. He claimed that each of the vendors has been notified of the issue and urged them to reconsider the use of face recognition as a secure log-in option until the problem has been fixed.

Toshiba, Lenovo and Asus are among a handful of vendors currently supporting face authentication as a secure log-in option. The idea is to let a user’s face serve as a password for gaining access to a system. Instead of logging in with a username and password, users simply sit in front of a built-in camera on the system that captures an image of their face and compares selected features from the image with those previously registered by the user. Users are granted access only if the images match.

Laptop vendors have touted the technology as safer and easier than relying on usernames and passwords.

The problem, according to Minh Duc, is that face-recognition algorithms cannot tell the difference between a digitized image and a real face. Because the algorithms, in effect, process digital information sent via the camera, it is possible to trick the software with an image of a registered user of a system, he said.

An attacker could obtain a photo of the user and tweak the lighting and viewpoint with commonly available image-editing tools, he said. Because a hacker is unlikely to know what the face stored in the system looks like, he might have to create a large number of digital facial images — each with different lighting and viewpoints — to fool the face-recognition technology. An attacker would need to have a reasonable amount of experience with image editing and regeneration to successfully carry out such attacks, Minh Duc added.

At Black Hat, Minh Duc showed how to access laptops from each of the three vendors simply by placing digitized images of actual users in front of the built-in laptop cameras. The approach worked even when the face-recognition software was set to its highest security setting. With the Toshiba face-recognition technology, Minh Duc had to move the images a bit to fool the technology because it looks for facial movement. It is also possible to use black-and-white images to fool one of the systems, he added.

What makes the vulnerability in laptop face-recognition technology particularly dangerous is that compromises are harder to spot, Minh Duc said. An attacker could gain access to a system without the real user ever knowing about it, he claimed.

In comments sent via e-mail, a Lenovo spokeswoman didn’t directly dispute any of the claims made by the security researcher. But she said that the company’s VeriFace face-recognition technology offers a “convenient” and “accurate” log-in option for users.

“There are trade-offs between security and convenience, and users should balance the need for convenient, quick access through facial log-in with the higher levels of security that are associated with using complex and lengthy passwords or fingerprint readers,” the Lenovo spokeswoman wrote.

She added that VeriFace looks for eye movement to distinguish between a still photograph and a real person. And she said that the face-recognition technology, which is offered only in the vendor’s consumer laptops, “continues to be upgraded.”

Okay, now I have heard it all.

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Courtesy The Register

A US man who had been convicted on a second-degree murder charge will get a new trial after a computer virus destroyed transcripts of court proceedings.

Randy Chaviano, of Hialeah, Florida, was given a life sentence for the fatal shooting of Carlos Acosta after he was convicted by a Miami jury in July 2009. An appeal was lodged when it was discovered that only a partial record of the trial that led to Chaviano’s conviction could be found.

In the circumstances the Third District Court of Appeal had no option but to strike the conviction and order a fresh trial.

Court stenographers normally record proceedings on both paper and digital disk. But Terlesa Cowart, stenographer at Chaviano’s 2009 trial, forgot to bring enough rolls of paper and relied on digital recordings alone to chronicle proceedings. She transferred this data to her PC and erased it from the stenograph. Cowart has been fired for the monumental screw-up, The Miami Herald reports.

Bad move. The PC subsequently became infected by an unidentified virus, causing the destruction of the records. No secure backup was taken, so the state will be put through the expense of a second trial that will cause, at the very least, inconvenience for witnesses and heartache for the victim’s family.

 

I know what you’re thinking, “Why all the fuss over getting Siri on non-iPhone 4s phones?” the reason at least I am always researching it? I don’t like to be told that something is impossible with computers. I have yet to meet a computer problem I couldn’t fix. So, in the spirit of exploration, here is an article from Huffington Post was published five days ago that may have at least some of the answers using a new underground app called Spire.

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Video

The Scoop

Ever since the release of the iPhone 4S, hackers have been diligently working to port Siri — the voice-activated personal assistant app exclusive to the new phone — to other iOS devices.

Now, Grant Paul (aka chpwn) and Ryan Petrich have released “Spire,” a tool for installing Siri on any device running iOS 5. Unfortunately, while Spire will let users install Siri directly — and legally — from Apple, getting the software to successfully communicate with Siri’s servers is another task entirely.

Writing on his blog, Paul admits Spire is “not a complete solution” and explains the trouble with getting iOS devices other than the iPhone 4S to run Siri properly:

“Apple still requires authorization to use Siri, so information from an iPhone 4S is still required. To insert this information, Spire allows you to enter your own proxy server address. I’ve put up a list of my ideas on how you might get access to a proxy; hopefully you can figure something out.”

Paul suggests a number of possible solutions, including snagging some authentication tokens from a friend who has an iPhone 4S and is willing to share, or perhaps paying for them on some sort of yet-to-be established marketplace for trading access tokens.
As for any possibility that the iPhone hacking community may circumvent the Apple firewall in the future, Paul says that’s “very likely impossible.”

Writing for TechCrunch, Sarah Perez notes that this is not the kind of statement to be taken lightly when coming from an iPhone hacker.
“Remember, hackers don’t often throw around words like ‘impossible’ too often,” Perez wrote. “Clearly, Apple has some heavy-duty security in place for managing Siri requests.”

So, while Spire may help users install the software, they’re essentially left to their own devices when it comes to making Siri work.

For the more adventurous iPhone users out there, Spire is currently available in the underground app store, Cydia.
Of course, Cydia can only be accessed from jailbroken devices. Luckily, the iPhone Dev-Team recently released an untethered jailbreak solution for devices running iOS 5. (Click here to find out more about that)

On the other hand, Google is reportedly working on its own Siri competitor named “Majel.”
According to eWeek, Google engineers working on the project are adding natural language processing enhancements to the company’s existing voice search application, which has been available on iPhones and Android devices since 2008.
But CNET speculates Majel could end up being much more than a Siri knockoff, especially considering Siri actually uses Google as its default search engine.
If you’re interested in learning how to install Spire on your older-generation iPhone, check out the video (above), featuring step-by-step instructions, courtesy of Revolvrr.

I have been using my iPhone 4 now since April. Love it! Fantastic phone. I have 5 email accounts that sync with it and generally use it to check email, browse the web a little and play games. Typical iPhone stuff, right?

Well, ten days into my monthly usage I get a text message stating I had used 75% of my 4GB of data. I was aghast. How could I possibly have used that much data in 10 days when my typical data usage each month was only about 2-2.5 GB?! 2 hours later I get a text message stating I had used 100% of my data and will now be charged for overage.

Then it hit me that this is also the first month of my iOS 5 upgrade (the one that is supposed to conserve battery usage). So, I started researching what could be using bandwidth. I reset my usage stats and watched carefully what apps were open and when as well as how much data on average was being consumed. I was averaging 300 MB about every 1.5 days!

I found that several things were bandwidth hogs, Netflix and Pandora. Not particularly surprising. However, I really only listen to and watch them on my WiFi network at home. I found that even when I hit the home button, they remained open and kept itself buffered (prepared to play) which meant it had to send and receive it constantly.

Location services also seemed to be sucking up bandwidth. Email I cut down to manual only… And I am still trying to figure out what is eating up so much data. I still have 6 days until the end of my month and I am at 7GB of usage this month alone.

My conclusion? There is something seriously eating bandwidth on iOS 5 and for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is yet. One of my clients said she too has been going through bandwidth and she has no email setup on her iPhone and literally the only thing she does is play Angry Birds. This is what has led me to believe there is some kind of an inherent flaw somewhere in the latest iOS release. I am going to go to an AT&T store or an Apple store and see if there are some diagnostics that can determine what is consuming all of this traffic. I have literally shut off my cellular data completely for fear of more charges.

Is anyone else having this problem?

I will post my findings as soon as I have some answers.

UPDATE: I have done some further research and have found that 95% of my data usage this month has been transmitted data. I have 7.5 GB of transmitted data. What on earth could possibly be transmitting that amount of data. There is NO WAY I send that much email and I can’t think of anything that could possibly send that constant of a stream of data.

UPDATE 2: After 1 hour on the phone with AT&T they have determined that:
1. Yes, my overage is definitely a defect somewhere but they can’t figure put where.
2. I will have to go to Apple to have them run a diagnostic on the phone.

To their credit, they have credited me for the full overage cost AND my normal data plan charge because they do not feel it is my fault that this overage had occurred. They have also confirmed that I am not an isolated incident. Several other customers have also had excessive overage problems.

I will let you know as soon as I have more info from Apple.

UPDATE 3: Well, after spending about 2 hours at the Apple Store and hemming and hawing over all the processes. We finally discovered there was a problem with my iPhone trying to download my purchases from iTunes - even though I had specifically marked in my “General Settings” for it not to download purchases over cellular data. Anytime I would make a phone call, for some reason it would kick start the purchases downloading (and I had about 40GB of purchases pending to download as I had asked Apple to reset my purchases because I was missing some movies I had purchased).

So, how did I fix this? I had to do a factory reset on my iPhone… reload all my apps and settings and viola! It’s perfect again.

Just goes to prove, even Apple is not infallible! (thank God!) But they are DEFINITELY more helpful than Microsoft.

Before we start. I talk about two terms in this article:

A.I. – Aritifical Intelligence (Computers that learn)

Siri – Apple’s new A.I. Integration for the iPhone 4S

SIRI

“Siri”… What’s in a name? Probably one of the biggest questions I’ve seen out on the Net: “What does SIRI stand for?” It’s obviously an ancronym. One person from PC Magazine joked that it means “Steve Is Really Inside”.

SIRI iPhone 4SOne of my higher sources at Apple said they believe it stands for “Safe Interactive Response Intelligence” for it’s primary design of allowing mobile phone usage while driving without taking your eyes off the road. The reality is though, Siri was invented long before apple thought to integrate it into its iOS 5 system. In fact, Siri initially intended it’s software to be installed on Apple, Blackberry and Droids. Only after Siri was purchased by Apple in April of 2010 did all of the other manufacturing phones get the axe with Siri. Siri was founded in 2007 by Dag Kittlaus and a small team of developers and venture capitalists. Dag later left Siri after it was announced that Siri would only be installed on iPhone 4S. A decision that several of Siri’s executives did not think was appropriate.

What they don’t tell you about Siri.

What they don’t tell you about Siri is that it doesn’t actually use it’s intelligence on the iPhone itself. There are a set of preprogrammed commands (about 4 dozen of them) that will work when cellular data is offline however the A.I. part of the application itself actually records your voice and transmits it to Apple’s server (cloud) network to process your request and spit back a response to your iPhone. I am not crazy about this for two reasons.

  1. It’s using your cellular data, thus… Costing you money if you don’t have a large data package.
  2. Call it a big brother fear, but I don’t like my voice being sent to some server in who the hell knows where to be analyzed.

Canned responses versus true unique responses.

Anyone that has an iPhone 4S or knows someone with one, knows that Siri will respond to questions like “What are you wearing?” or “How are you today?”. But the responses that come back from Siri are not actually “thought” by any computer. They are pre-recorded responses (textually prepared… Siri actually DOES text to speech) that are created by the developers. These are responses that the developers are calling “idiot responses”. There are between 10-15 variations on answers to some of the most common questions that people ask that basically have nothing required of Artificial Intelligence. So, if you think Siri has an attitude… It’s the developers with the attitude, not your phone.

What is Intelligent about Siri’s Artificiality?

What Siri does, that is truly “A. I.” is:

  1. Learns how you talk and use your iPhone
  2. Builds “typical” routines for you. For example, if you have scheduled the same appointment a few times, it learns that this is a pattern and may ask you if you want a recurring appointment.
  3. Uses every bit of voice data sent to the servers to learn to understand human speech better (we are talking world-wide) through voice recognition.

Wrap up?

In a nutshell, it’s a great production concept and does exactly what Apple purported it would. The iPhone 4S really is not a massive change in the iPhone world, but Siri is pretty innovative and I think you’ll see a lot more mobile carriers come out with something similar for two reasons.

  1. They want to compete with Apple
  2. The need for a safe method of “talking” to your phone is getting more critical all the time with the increase of mobile phone related accidents on the road.

I personally own the iPhone 4 and think I will wait a while before I consider buying one. I never like buying something as soon as it comes out because 6 months later it will be the second best.

Photos and Videos and Data, Oh! My!

So, you have been taking digital photos and video and now you have thousands of digital photos and videos, now what?

There are two major problems when it comes to the use of Digital Cameras.

  1. You end up having thousands of pictures that you need to organize.
  2. If your hard drive dies, you lose all of those memories.

Photos and VideosLet’s address number one first. At last count I currently have over 17 thousand digital photographs. Granted, I may not be your typical digital photographer (then again, I very well may be). I have two pieces of advice when it comes to the enormous amounts of photos. First, don’t be afraid to delete. Chances are you will never have the time to “make that picture look better”, so chose the photos you like and trash the rest. Secondly, download Picasa from Google. It’s a free photo management software and it is amazing. It of course allows you to organize by folder, date, etc. But here is the huge advantage; it allows you to keyword the photos in the METADATA of the photograph. When you add keywords in Picasa, it adds those keywords to a database (ok, that’s no big deal, most programs do that) but Picasa also write (and reads) the keywords into the photograph file itself. There is a hidden area of the photograph called the METADATA, it contains information about when the photo was taken, what camera took it, what the F-Stop settings were, etc. There is also an area for keywords in there and it embeds those keywords.

What does this mean to you?
It means that you can search for photos by people’s names, events, dates, relatives, etc. (assuming you do a good job of key wording the photos). It also means that if you give a copy of that photo to someone else, the keywords will travel with the photo. So your Mom, Dad, Brother, whoever… will be able to search that photo as well if they have a program such as Picasa which can read this data.

Data Lost!
So, this solves our organizational problem. Next big problem, hard drive lose. If you Lost Datashould lose (hard drive dies) your hard drive you WILL lose your photos as well. Granted there are data recovery services out there, but I will keep this simple in four words. BACK UP YOUR DATA!
Do NOT wait for your hard drive to die and wish that you had backed it up. It costs next to nothing to backup your data and store it in a safe location. Now, you can easily back up your photo library using Picasa using the Tools; Backup Pictures option off the top menu. But you can also just as easily back it up by burning them to CD or DVD (definitely DVD if you are talking thousands of photos) using the native burning utility in Windows or a software utility such as Nero. The most important thing to remember is make regular backups. If you are a home user then once a month should be more than adequate. If you are a power user (always on your computer making changes, saving photos, etc.) then once every week or two is probably a better idea.
Why backup?
Although this does relate to the previous article I wrote (see “O.K. You Now Have Thousands of Digital Photos, Now What?”), I thought it was important to dedicate a section just to backups. I recently had a client come to me that told me his laptop had been stolen when he walked away from a table he was sitting at to go to the restroom. As it turns out, this man had an extensive database of confidential information about his clients on his laptop… and ONLY his laptop. He kept no backups of the data on his desktop (because he didn’t want people getting into it when he wasn’t there). This raises several topics, only a few of which I will touch on at this moment.

  1.  If you are going to have your data in one place, then MAKE BACKUPS.
  2. A laptop is NOT a reliable means of storing your data for long term purposes.
  3. If your laptop gets stolen and you do not take the appropriate precautions in securing your data then you are liable for any information that may be obtained from said device.

MAKE BACKUPS!
In today’s day and age, backups of data are more critical now, than they ever were and with the low cost of storage media (USB Drives, Hard drives, etc.) there is NO EXCUSE not to backup. People store photos, music, documents, databases, applications and much more on their computers and many times need to refer back to them for one reason or another. Hard drives are very reliable these days and getting more reliable all the time. However, the fact remains that hard drives have moving parts in them (to spin them up and to move the read/write head back and forth). Although not having them will significantly reduce the amount of data loss problems people have, it won’t eliminate the need for backups all together. I recommend to everyone (including home users) that they run at a minimum monthly, backups. Good practice is weekly full backups and daily incremental backups. I will go into more details on that in a few minutes.

Backups can be done on CD, DVD or if you want to protect your data, put it on a password protected flash drive. These can store a tremendous amount of data these days and are very reliable. If you have an enormous amount of data (over 10GB) it is probably advisable that you either backup to Tape or external hard drive. Tape is more reliable, but it is more expensive, thus the hard drive option will probably make more sense for most people.

Let’s get down to basics. What is a backup? A backup is a copy of a file or files that you want to keep for a long time, if not indefinitely. Backups are grouped into three different categories, and pay attention because it can be a little confusing:

  • Full Backups – Which backs up all of the selected data in a given set.
  • Incremental Backups – Which backs up all of the data that has not been backed up since the last backup. (not the last full)
  • Differential Backups – Which backs up all of the data that did not get backed up since the last full.

So, the first thing people usually ask is “Isn’t an Incremental Backup the same as a Differential Backup then?” The answer is No. An incremental backup backs up all of the data that has not been backed up since the last backup. That’s ANY TYPE of backup. The last backup could have been another incremental, or it could have been a differential. The downside to incremental backups is that to do a full restore of data and have it UP TO DATE, you must have a full backup AND EVERY incremental backup that took place up to the date you want to restore to. Whereas, if you are doing fulls and differentials, you only need the last full and the last differential.
Okay, that covers the basics.

Physical Backups vs. Online Backups
Online BackupsThere have been a lot of discussions regarding online backups and physical backups such as CD or Flashdrive.
Online backups (such as Dell Datasafe, Carbonite and Mozy, to name a few) have come a long way, but from a personal standpoint it will be a while before I exclusively trust an online backup company. Basically the way it works is, you load software on your computer and your computer securely encrypts your data and sends it to a server somewhere on the Internet. In theory, should you lose your data or hard drive then you can download your files from your backups. My main concerns with this method are the fact that these companies are new (within the last 5 years) and there is no way of telling who will be around in ten to fifteen years and who won’t. What if a company goes under and you are not informed? Have you lost your data or do they have a contingency?

Worse yet is the fact that although everyone’s Internet connections are improving (speed-wise), if you have hundreds of gigabytes of data then it can take hours, days, weeks or even months to do a single backup. This is why I prefer physical backups and if necessary use online backups as a secondary backup.

Physical Backup Software
Now on to software. Keep in mind, that I try to aim this Blog at the home user. If you want to know good business or enterprise grade backup solutions, then post a comment and I’ll be happy to expand on that. So as far as software goes for backing up there are hundreds (if not thousands) of choices. So I will just mention a couple of my favorites. Microsoft’s Backup & Restore that is native to Windows XP (and Server 2003) is very good for the average user (and most power users). It is actually a scaled down version of the professional backup software “Backup Exec”. Nero works very well and is getting better all the time, however it has a lot of auxiliary components that install (various little do dads that do nothing but take up memory and CPU usage). Roxio has several backup software products that do well. Almost all of these products can do the three types of backups listed above. If all you are backing up is photos and video, then Picasa does a good job (see the above mentioned article).

Regarding Theft of Data
The most important thing you can do if your data is stolen is file a police report IMMEDIATELY. Next, contact as many people as possible that you believe may have been compromised by this loss of data, INCLUDING your employer if their data was in the stolen set. Any delay in not contacting all those involved puts you and them at risk.