Tech Tip: Change your passwords to ensure security

#TechTip: Change your passwords often. Don’t use words found in a dictionary or easy number combinations.

Last week, news broke of a major password breach on a number of major social media websites.  Close to 2 million passwords were accessed from sites like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter.  The security breach means if your password was compromised, you may be susceptible to attack from other hackers.

It is strongly advised that you change your passwords.  Even if you don’t think you were affected, its always good to change your passwords now and then for security.  This week, we are going to bring a series of tips and blogs on why security for your password is important and offer tips on what to do.

First for this week, lets talk about the actual password you use.  Do not use names, dates, or any word that can be found in a dictionary.  Even words that are linked together can be cracked.  If its found in a dictionary, it can be cracked.  It is strongly suggested that passwords contain the following elements:

  • Upper Case letters
  • Lower Case letters
  • Numbers
  • Punctuation
  • 8 or more characters

If you include these in your password, and they are not based on any dictionary words, chances are its a secure password.  Having said that, almost any password can be hacked by a skilled hacker.  The point is not to make an uncrackable code, but to create a code that would require so much effort for a potential hacker to crack that it wouldn’t be worth their time or resources to try.

Even with good strong passwords that can’t be easily cracked, its still suggested you change your passwords often.  Your login credentials for the sites you visit are usually kept in a database somewhere.  Its those databases that hackers tend to be attracted to.  If they manage to get in and steal a file containing many passwords, then all the complexity in the world won’t help you.  Simply changing your password will avoid any issues.


Tech Tip: Using Technology to Prepare those Holiday Lists

#TechTip: Technology can help prepare those holiday shopping lists. @evernote for lists or#Pintarest for gift and decoration ideas

Its not secret that I am a big fan of Evernote.  For those that don’t know what it is, Evernote is a note taking app that syncs across all your mobile devices and computers while making everything searchable.  It even incorporates traditional paper note taking and is able to bring it in to your electronic world.

When its time to make your shopping lists, I would recommend using either Evernote, or if you have a note taking program you are comfortable with, to make your holiday shopping lists.  Here’s why:

  • Don’t worry about losing your paper list with everyone’s gift ideas on it.  not only would it be hard to remember what you are getting everyone, but leaving it lying around may come under the scrutiny of those who’s names are on the list.
  • Add items to your list while working on your computer, and then easily access them while on the go
  • Use the camera function to take pictures of gift ideas and add them to your note, so everything is in one location. (Try adding a picture to the back of the envelope you wrote your list down on!)

On the topic of using your camera phone for gift ideas, another tool you can use this holiday season is Social Media.  Pinterest is a newer social media platform that has gained quite a bit of attraction since its launch.  Its purpose it to share images on a board, much like a bulletin board.  Once you log on, you can create a board where you can scour the internet for pictures of gift ideas, or use your camera to take pictures while out shopping.  This is great for making your preliminary list of things to get people, as well as making your own holiday wish list.  You can share your list or keep it private.  (Just know that once you make a private board public you can’t undo it).  Pinterest is also great for finding lots of holiday decorating ideas.

The holidays can be a stressful time, but hopefully if you start early, and use your connected technology properly, you can get through it quickly and stress free.

Tech Tip: Be cautious about posting vacation plans online

#TechTip: Be careful about what you post online over the holidays. Posted travel info can attract unwanted attention to your empty house.

The holidays are a great time for getting away from the cold to sunny spots down south.  Or maybe you’re planning a trip to visit family over the holidays.  Whatever your plans are, enjoy them.  Take lots of pictures.  Tell all your friends how great your trip was (or not so great, depending!) but just make sure to tell them AFTER you get back.

Social media is a wonderful tool to share your memories with friends and family about your travels and allow them to experience what you are in real time vicariously through you.  But this has also led to a number of unsavory individuals trolling the internet finding you your house is empty, and then proceeding to make sure your house is empty before you return home.

Here are a few tips to ensure you and your home are safe:

  • Don’t post your travel plans in advance on social media.  A tweet saying “Off to Cancun for the next week” might as well say “House is empty for the next week. Take what you want”
  • Know your Social media platforms. Twitter, Instagram and many others are public so anyone can see what you post.  Facebook and Google+ allow you to restrict who sees what posts.  If you are intending to post things online, choose outlets that reduce the likelihood of criminals finding out you are away
  • Foursquare is great for checking into places, especially when away, but make sure the list of people who follow you are actual friends, and don’t post your checkins to Twitter
  • Instagram is wonderful for sharing your pictures and videos, but again it is publicly accessible.  Save the pictures on your camera or smartphone until you have returned or are on your way home.
  • Make sure you have friends or neighbours checking on your place while you are gone.
  • Put lights on timers, or for those wanting to go the extra mile, set up a home automation system that you can remotely connect to while away

Don’t start the new year having to deal with insurance companies to replace all your home contents.  Take precautions and have an enjoyable trip.


Tech Tip: Eliminate faxes with a fax to email service

#TechTip: reduce the amount of wasted fax paper by converting over to a fax to email service. Easy to delete junk faxes. Saves paper too.

Fax machines are that one technology that sticks around despite having so many better solutions.  Ask a law office or a doctors office to get rid of their fax machine and they would just laugh.  While revolutionary at the time, the need for fax machines have waned over the last decade while scanners and email have taken over document transmission.  Fax quality is poor compared to other technology.  You can actually get a better quality document taking a photograph of your document with your camera phone and emailing it.  Yet despite this fax machines still remain a requirement for many businesses. 

If you accept the need to receive faxes bit hate the idea of a fax machine or dedicated phone line then its time go consider a fax to email service.  It provides the benefits of a fax line for receiving faxes without the hassle of a fax machine. 

How does it work?

You would still have a phone number dedicated for faxes but when a fax comes in the call is routed to a computer that converts the fax into a PDF and then emails it to you.  Doing this not only saves the hassle of a fax machine bit also all the paper associated with it.  Deleting a junk email is a lot easier than having a junk fax print and then have to be recycled. 

Even though you will have a dedicated fax number you don’t need an additional fax line.  There are many service available that will run the solution for you.  There is no additional equipment needed to be purchased for incoming faxes, although an investment in a modern phone system can be configured to handle faxes through your primary phone line.

If you also need to send a fax you have a couple of options.  Some services will allow you to print a PDF to their system and have them fax on your behalf.  Other solutions include using your existing analog phone line and a computer with modem plugged in sending the fax.  For those that do require a fax machine do sending, faxing with a voice over internet connection is possible to avoid the extra phone line costs, but tends not to be as reliable. 

The best solution is to convert over to non fax technology , but if you still require faxes for your business, consider these options to reduce your costs and frustrations.

Tech Tip: What are Hashtags and how can they be used?

#TechTip: Hashtags make your content searchable. You can also follow conversations by searching for a hashtag comment

Everyone from news stations to popular comedians have been talking about Hashtags recently, but for someone following from the outside, you may ask yourself: What exactly is a Hashtag?

Good Question!  Put simply, a Hashtag is a word or phrase written on social media outlets that starts with the Pound or Hash sign ( # ) and makes content searchable.  Example:  #TechTip

How does that happen?  With social media, tweets and posts come at an alarming rate and sometimes make it hard to follow.  A Tweet has a very short life span.  Depending on the content, your group of followers and any retweets, a tweet can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes before it falls off the radar.  Facebook posts and other social media platforms tend to have longer life spans, but even then not by a whole lot.  What a hashtag will do when added to your post or tweet makes it easy to be searchable.  It can actually do this in two ways.

1) Tweets can be seen in real time by people who do not follow you but follow the same hashtag.  You may not know who is talking about a specific topic, but if everyone who is uses a hashtag, then a quick search will pull up the current live conversation.  For example, if you wanted to see who was talking about Canadian politics, you can search for the hashtag #CDNpoli or about a specific event in Canadian politics such as #SenateCA .

2) Tweets can be pulled up even if they were sent out a while ago.  If you search for a hashtag, even one that doesn’t have a current conversation going, you can generally find that topic searchable.

There is a third use for hashtags that is a little different.  Since anyone can make a hashtag about anything, it has become common to use hashtags as a joke or to add emotion, emphasis or sarcasm to a tweet or post.  A tweet about hashtags could include something like #Whatiswithallofthesehashtags or something other to get a point across.

Hashtags can go anywhere in a post or tweet.  The only things you need to know are that you can not have any spaces between words and there can be no other punctuation in it.  Generally you should not include more than 1 or 2 hashtags in a post or tweet, but there are some exceptions for some social media platforms like Instagram where hashtagging almost every word to make it searchable has become quite common.

There are some great articles out there if you have more questions on hashtags such as this Beginners guide to Hashtags from Mashable or directly from Twitter.

There are many popular hashtags that people can follow such as #FollowFriday which encourages people to tweet out the usernames of people you think your followers should also follow.  Since anyone can make one, feel free to have some fun making your own or use it in a Google search or Twitter search for important or fun discussions online.


Tech Tip: Enjoy tunes from your phone in your car

#TechTip: Get a good Bluetooth car kit for your phone, and enjoy your music over your cars speakers

Bluetooth car kits have been around for many years now, and some cars already come with kits built in.  While Bluetooth headsets are still popular when driving, a decent car kit provides a great deal benefits.

First, lets start with the warning: Using your phone while driving can be dangerous and in some areas illegal.  Be aware of local laws regarding phones, electronic devices and driving.  Don’t drive distracted!  Keep your eyes on the road!

While using your phone can be dangerous, there are ways to safely set up your phone and car to limit the amount of distraction and make it safer.  A car kit or earpiece is a must is most jurisdictions now.  Make sure you have one.  As I said in a previous tech tip, keep a backup wired headset in your car just in case your wireless one dies on you.

While most car kits have the built in speaker, some will even go as far as syncing up to your car stereo, whether its built in to the car, or through an FM transmitter, your kit can send calls to your stereo, making it easier to hear the caller at the other end.

In addition to that, if your phone will sync to your car stereo, there should be a setting to play music from your phone over the stereo.  This gives you the enjoyment of your music every you go.  Whether it is music stored on your phone or streamed through your data connection, it will keep you tuned in that what you like best.

To safely operate your phone/music player, make sure your phone is in a proper cradle that attaches to your car.  The easiest way is to pick up a suction cup mount that has a generic adapter for all phones.  This way you can keep the same mount even if you change phones, or move the mount if you move cars.  Personally I’m more of a fan of mounts built in to a car, such as from ProClip.  Their car mounts often require professional installation, so its best for cars that you plan to keep for a long time.  They have individual brackets for each brand of phone, and each mount is custom designed for your car model.  Expensive yes, but I’ve been using them now for 8 years, 2 different cars and countless phones.

Most stores carrying smartphones, especially around the holiday season, will be carrying different suction cup window mounts.  This is fine for most people, but there are also mounts that clip to your car vents.  While these are handy, I recommend you don’t have the heaters blasting out of these vents directly onto your phone.  That makes it too easy for your phone to overheat.

You can probably pick up a nice long USB cable and run it from your phone, or Bluetooth kit, or both, and into your Cars power outlet. Get a 12V adapter with 2 USB ports on it to keep both your phone and bluetooth kit charged up at all times.

Stay safe and enjoy your drive!

Tech Tip: Adding technology to your winter driving kit

Tech Tip: In addition to a snow brush, keep a backup battery or car charger in your car as part of your winter driving kit.

As we start adjusting to winters arrival, we have to male a few changes both to how we drive and what we carry with us in our car.  Snow brushes and a blanket are great additions to any car during the winter, but there are a few technology solutions we can also include as we winterize the car.

If you don’t already have one, make sure you include a car charger for your phone.  The last thing you want is to be spun out in a ditch on a snowy evening and have your phone die on you.  Most smart phones have moved over to the Micro USB adapter, meaning 1 charger packed away is probably all you need as it will charge most phones now and in the future.  Apple does remain stubborn and have it’s own proprietary charger so make sure you have one that will work if you use an iPhone.

Another great item to include is an emergency battery backup for your phone.  In essence, it is a portable battery pack that you can fit in a glove box or bag to provide emergency power.  Most battery packs can charge a phone 1 or 2 times before it needs to be charged itself.  While a car charger is handy, its useless if your car battery is dead.  It is important to remember that cold can affect battery performance so if you decide to get a portable battery pack, make sure its checked or charged up regularly.  Even better would be to keep it in a bag or pocket where it will stay warm enough not to lose its charge.

Another option to carrying a battery pack is to store a portable power generator for charging your phone.  Some hand crank flashlights have built in chargers for a phone.  A solar charger is also a great idea, but just remember it’s darker in winter so a solar charger will be at its least efficient during the winter.  Another great tool is the PowerPot by Power Practical.  It generates enough electricity to charge a phone by heating water in it over a stove.  I originally bought one for camping, but found it extremely useful during my recent kitchen renovations.  I now keep it I’m my car in the event I get stranded at the side of the road.  Fortunately melting snow is a great way for it to produce electricity.  You can buy a small camp stove and fuel tank that fits right inside and stashes away in your trunk easily.

Winter presents its own set of challenges for driving, and preparing for those challenges is critical.  By preparing in advance you will be ready for any issue that arises, and still be connected at the time you need it most.

Could the Instant Messaging problem in Government be BlackBerrys Salvation?

This is the first of what I hope will be a number of cross-over blogs focusing on both the politics and the technology behind some of the stories hitting the news.  This blog will look at the issue from a technology perspective, and our sister blog “The Centre” will look at the same issue from a political standpoint.
Yesterday the Federal Information Commissioner for Canada issued a report detailing a problem in the Federal government with Instant messaging.  Ministers and staff members are using Instant messaging and BlackBerry PIN to PIN messaging to communicate with each other, often about government business.  The problem with this method of communication at the government level is that there is do easy, or direct method to backup and record these transactions.  Under the Federal Access to Information Act, all business regarding government needs to be recorded and archived.  PIN to PIN messaging and Instant Messaging (Such as BBM) can easily be deleted with little to no trace of any conversation taking place.
Naturally it is not a far stretch to see in many instances why conversations would like to be kept off the record, in personal, business and government roles.  The main difference though is that personal conversations being kept under wraps are simply that: a personal matter.  Even in business, there is lots of legitimate times conversations would want to be kept off the record.  When it comes to government however, while communications needs to be secured, being kept off the record is a major issue.  You need to look no further than the current Canadian Senate scandal to see why records need to be kept to verify transactions and conversations.
The commissioner put forward the recommendation that all Instant messaging and PIN messaging be halted in government departments.  This is a recommendation the current government does not seem keen on and has announced it will not accept the recommendations.
From a technology perspective, instant communications through text, BBM, PIN or other instant messaging platforms has become not just the norm for government operations, it has become essential to provide information quickly and accurately to personnel.  In all areas, Instant messaging is able to bring short, quick messages to people when they need it.  It has been adopted at many major companies as a viable communications tool, even over email or voice.
So the dilemma exists: How do you get government staff and ministers to stop using a technology that they rely on every day and that has obvious benefits?
A New Market?
Instant messaging platforms have been seeing some serious attention from investors recently.  WhatsApp and Kik are 2 platforms that have seen significant interest from venture capitalists.  BlackBerry, for all its troubles, has seen a resurgence in popularity over its BBM instant messaging platform being ported over to both the iPhone and Android devices.  BlackBerry could very well leverage interest in BBM in determining its future company value.  Yet for all the interest, most instant messaging platforms bring in little to no revenue.  The big question many messaging companies are looking at is how to turn those valuable users into revenue generators?
There is a potential market here for those instant messaging businesses to be able to create and sell a solution to governments.  A solution that would provide all the benefits of direct instant messaging currently being enjoyed, while providing a backend that can automatically backup and archive all messages.  And BlackBerry seems like the perfect business to tackle it.
Already, BlackBerry is heavily integrated into Governments, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server does have the ability to log and audit BBM and PIN messaging.  As Blackberry undergoes the inevitable changes that it will need to take, focusing on service solutions will be how it can save itself; And government management of mobile devices, for security and message archiving is where it can leverage its strengths to create a solution that is profitable and accountable.
Its surprising that the government currently does not archive its PIN and BBM messages, (at least in my understanding of the report) but this provides an excellent opportunity to see if the former darling of the Canadian tech landscape can prove once again it is still relevant by solving an issue it essentially created.

Tech Tip: Using technology in the Kitchen


Tech Tip: Your Tablet and laptop can be great companions in the kitchen. Google recipes and clip the good ones in your notes application.

It seems rather fitting that we look at the use of technology in the kitchen today, being the American Thanksgiving and only a few short weeks away from family dinners around the holidays.  Laptops, tablets and smartphones all can provide a great deal of assistance during the dinner hours.

Deciding what to make can be daunting as it is. I have spent many evenings looking at the freezer and seeing what meats we have, only to get stuck on finding what would be the best way to prepare them.  This is where Google has been a great help to me.  A simple request asking for recipes for *Insert main food ingredient here* and I have a plethora of ideas from the simple to the gourmet available to me.  I find Chicken and Pork are the two meats that are staples in our house, but need to be changed up so as not to create the same boring meal every time.  Chicken recipes are plentiful on the Internet.  I’ve found many of my favourite recipes at allrecipes.combut it is by far not the only place to look.  That’s where Google comes in.  By entering what you want to cook, you will get a list of different sites and recipes.

What to do when you found your perfect recipe?

Recipe books and boxes to stash clipped recipes were great in the past, but instead of printing out that recipe, I back it up online.  As most regular readers know, I am a big fan of Evernote.  I have a notebook set aside just for recipes so I can merge the family traditional recipes passed on from my family as well as mix it with new recipes I find online.  You can tag each recipe with the main ingredient (such as Pork or Chicken) to make it easy to find later.  As a guy who really didn’t have many cooking skills until recently, I find it great to be able to easily access these on any device.  I can look up my meal choice, download it to Evernote from my computer at home, and then access it again easily from my Smartphone when shopping for ingredients. (Usually when I’m part way through cooking and realize I don’t have a main ingredient in the house!)

Timing the Turkey

Once you have your dinner prepped, depending what your cooking, you may need to time how long it takes to cook something.  Most clocks on smartphones now will have both a countdown and a count up timer.  Set your alarm for however long you need and walk away. (Don’t forget to check in now and then on your food though!)  Enjoy your company and not worry about missing the alarm on the oven, since you will probably have your phone with you.

Setting the ambiance

Now that dinner is cooked, use your smartphone to run some nice music through a pair of speakers.  You can find a pair of cheap, wired speakers almost anywhere for a few dollars, or splurge and go for a set of Bluetooth speakers.  iPhones are obvious choices for listening to music, but I actually use a music server called Subsonic.  It allows me to store all my music in one place and access it from any phone, computer or tablet I want through either an App or a web interface. So relax to some smooth jazz music, or blast out some Holiday cheer, whatever strikes your fancy when the family all shows up.

Hopefully these tips will help make your meal preparations go smoothly, and help change up the variety of foods and meals.  I can help you with the technology, but cooking skills…’re on your own!

Tech Tip: Remote Desktop access on the Go

Tech Tip: control your desktop computer from anywhere using remote desktop software. Even from your Smartphone or Tablet

Desktop computers may be seeing a decrease in sales and adoption, but they’re not completely dead yet.  In fact, Desktop computers still can do things that Tablets or even Laptops can’t really do.  The beauty of desktop computers is their ability to be upgraded, run power applications (Such as heavy graphics processing programs) or as servers that require a constant connection to the network and always powered on.

Despite how important these tools can be, the lack of mobility of a desktop computer is a major obstacle in an era of constant mobility.  The solution to this is a Remote Desktop application.

What is a Remote Desktop?

Quite simply, a Remote desktop application allows you to control your desktop computer using another computer or mobile device.  Your view would be the same as if you were sitting in front of your desktop computer, but accessible on your laptop, tablet or smartphone.  The trick is the video connection, as well as all the inputs for keyboard and pointing device are transferred over a network connection instead of through the cables that plug into your computer directly.  By giving you full control of your computer you are able to work on it as if you were sitting in front of it.

How do you connect?

There are a number of applications that you can use to connect.  One of the most popular is a program called TeamViewer.  While running in the background on your desktop, it awaits a remote connection to activate.  By entering the unique ID and password provided, you can use another computer to log on and take control.  TeamViewer works on PCs, Macs, Linux, and many mobile devices through apps.

LogMeIn is another solution I have used in the past and have been quite happy with.  LogMeIn clients log on to their website and have access to all the computers they have registered to their account.  Through LogMeIn, you can see if a computer is online before attempting to connect, which is helpful if you are doing remote support for someone.

While these are not the only remote desktop solutions available, these are the two I have used the most and I find work well for individuals and small business owners.

Both programs offer many other features than just remote desktop, such as VPN service and online meetings, so I encourage you to check them out to see what other solutions there are.  I will write about other features in future Tech Tip posts.