Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Privacy in the modern times

It seems to me that with the advent of all our social media applications – Facebook, MySpace, twitter, Flickr, Tumblr etc., the ability for us to get our thoughts out there is the easiest it’s ever been. The detail that this provides to people is remarkable. Ad companies use it for focused advertising, other companies use it for various nefarious means and criminals use it to steal our identities. Less insidious I think is that people can know us in a way they never have before. The cost to our privacy seems to be one we’re happy to bear though – the most popular consumer mobile devices have Facebook and the like built in and integrated with everything – messages, photos, GPS locations etc. Our internal thoughts and feelings are now able to externalised quickly and limitlessly. Nine times out of ten this is incredibly boring stuff (let’s face it, we’re not as interesting as we’d like to be), but the fodder for bullies, abuse and misuse is extraordinary. It’s very much like posting a sticky note to the wall at school with your latest thoughts and opening yourself up to complete, uncontrolled scrutiny. We all know how much impact putting yourself out there at school can have. Now we do it on a global scale and it doesn’t seem to be an important thing to consider the value of our private lives.

Never mind the fact that once something gets to the Net it never seems to leave. Those embarrassing moments, which once passed leaving only an uncomfortable memory, now linger – sometimes that moment makes it to Youtube and it can live forever. These little moments, of often excruciating embarrassment now have the potential to harm us forever. One can make injunction to have them removed, a costly and time consuming procedure which often brings even more attention to the moment and so is only a partial remedy. It doesn’t stop people from downloading and keeping these images and movies for ever on their own personal machines. This is even exploited as people do stupid things for attention (and get it). The slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges seems to have morphed into Jackass and our collective intelligence has taken a mighty hit. But back to privacy.

I see the youth of today posting details, photos and information about themselves that as a young person I would never have done (and as an old person am even less likely). The generation older than mine are so recalcitrant about their personal feelings and life it can be like pulling teeth getting any information out of them even under the best and most appropriate of circumstances. It certainly adds to their mystery – another underrated and mostly lost commodity in the world. Whether it’s the endless tweets of a person summing up their thoughts in 160 characters or their barely there clothing, mystery is a lost art. Privacy and mystery are inextricably linked, and we don’t seem to realise that as you give up one, you give up the other. Potential partners or even potential employers can look into what you are doing, often without appropriate context, and make judgements on you and your behaviour without having other critical information, for while we do tend to post a lot of information to the net, most of it requires a certain amount of local knowledge (i.e. you had to be there type thing)

It is incumbent upon IT professionals to help non-technical people navigate this quagmire of what to do. The privacy settings of Facebook (for example) are not clear cut and there have been many times I’ve seen a profile completely exposed to all and sundry – birthdate, address, phone etc. – everything the budding identify thief needs to acquire and then sell your identity with. We need to help people understand what they can and should share to the world. There is a vulnerability to such openness and most lay people don’t understand the potential for harm. IT professionals have an obligation therefore to protect people from their potential loss through education and technical assistance. If you consider your current visibility on the Internet – where are you vulnerable?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The relevance of Microsoft Office in the Cloud based work environment

In the last few months several of my clients have made the jump from using Microsoft Exchange to using Google Apps. Initially this has just been for email, calendar and contacts but has since morphed into using Drive as well. At my office we have also made the change, but our split in staff - half telephony and half IT, means that the IT guys have really taken it on board, more so in fact than the telephony chaps.

Recently I was working with some gents from another organisation still using Office - we were using tethered laptops to exchange spreadsheets with simple data in them - at least they were doing it that way. I was getting the spreadsheet, importing it to Apps, updating it and sending it off. The beautiful thing was - I was doing it from my iPhone, HTC and my Google Nexus - same file, updating straight away and then emailing back to the guys - brilliant! And with offline files enabled it was even easier - I could still access files via Chrome and makes changes. The sync worked very well once networking was restored.

As more of my clients use Google Apps, more of them are questioning the need of having Microsoft Office on their PCs. After all, for the relatively low price of $5 per month per user for Google Apps Business software updates are included and the end user is always on the latest version of the office software - a definite advantage over the constant upgrade process one goes through with the various offices... not just Microsoft Office. Sharing files between people, both within the organisation and outside the organisation are quite easy. Even sending it to people without Google Apps is easy - files can be sent as PDF's or converted to Microsoft office files. 

Sharing and modifying files at the same time with people is easy, Apps notifies you of what is being altered and who is connected to it - a handy feature if, for example, two colleagues are updating a Sheet with details of different computers, without accidentally over writing the other person's data. Very useful. 

Anyway, this has been a musing - just something to ponder in quiet moments....

Friday, 4 January 2013

Lenovo L430 Review

Recently to replace my HP6560b notebook, I purchased a Lenovo L430. It looks like this:
Lenovo L430 Notebook
and it's specifications are:

  • 14" AntiGlare LCD monitor
  • i5-2520M Processor,
  • 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM (upgraded to 8GB),
  • 320/7200 HDD,
  • Multi-Burner,
  • HD Graphics 3000,
  • Bluetooth,
  • Fingerprint reader,
  • 720p Camera,
  • ABGN Wireless,
  • WWAN,
  • Card Reader,
  • Windows 7Professional 64,
  • 6 Cell battery (max 7.5 hours run time),
  • 1 Year return to depot warranty
  • GPS 
It has the same sturdy feel and build that all Lenovo notebooks do, a legacy of the IBM heritage Lenovo has successfully perpetuated. I'm absolutely delighted by the keyboard on this device - it is the best notebook keyboard I have ever used. I'm comparing it to the following notebooks: HP 6560b, HP tc4400, Lenovo R500, MacBook Air, various ASUS laptops, various Toshiba laptops, Lenovo X1 and HP 6730b. Obviously I get around on the notebook scene :-)

The touchpad and other pointing device are efficient and work well. I was surprised and impressed also by the efficacy of the wireless - it has been more efficient and connects at higher speed than my other notebooks, including the HP6560b. The built in GPS is pretty neat too - although I'm not sure what the hell I'm going to do with it :-) Generally I remove a lot of the pre-installed software, but I have of course left the Lenovo software, which is gradually improving all the time and it's usefulness is improving as well. I installed 1.6GB of updates in the first two hours of having this laptop which is indicative of Windows 7 out of the box. I had a spare 4GB of RAM laying around so I installed that for fun.

Overall I've found this notebook to be quite fast in general usage, quick to boot and efficient in it's power usage. I've used this notebook all day, and by the time I left the office still had 20% of battery available. This is doing web browsing, Excel, file moves etc. The L430 also has USB3 and an always on USB port I used to good example as I travelled between client offices today to charge my HTC One X. I'm looking forward to my docking station arriving so I can plug it into my dual 22" LED monitors. For about $1200 for the laptop and the docking station together these laptops are great value. I'm not sure how long they'll be around for - pretty they'll be discontinued soon in this trend of everything going to Windows 8. Grab one if you can :-)