TechTip: Use your Smartphone camera to catch candid shots

#TechTip: while nothing can really replace the quality of a good camera, using your smartphone will capture those candid moments

 
When most of us think back to our childhoods, many of the memories that pop up are around the holidays.  This may be due in part to the many photographs that were taken and those images tend to stick in our minds.  There will be no shortage of pictures taken this year as everyone gathers together, opening presents, preparing dinners and celebrating the holidays.
 
Good quality cameras have made significant improvements in features and size over the last decade.  Traditionally the best pictures have come from Digital SLR cameras, but smaller point and shoots have come a long way.  But while these cameras can produce some amazing pictures, they don’t tend to be with you at every moment during the holidays.  This means you could miss that great candid shot.  There is where you smartphone can save that special memory.
 
While not at the same quality as regular cameras, Smartphone cameras have also come a long way.  The average camera quality on a smartphone is about 8MP in image quality.  This is on par with your typical point and shoot camera.  The one major difference between the two is the optics.  A camera phone, even with the best optics, would have trouble rivaling a decent point and shoot camera, and most definitely can’t be compared with a Digital SLR camera.  But for the quality that you would lose, to be able to get that image for posterity is worth the trade off.
 
Nokia-Lumia-1020-with-Nokia-Pro-CameraSome phones, like the new Nokia Lumia 1020 have bridged that gap by including a 41MP sensor in the phone for stunning pictures.  Apple has also talked at great length about how good quality the iPhone’s camera is, but it doesn’t come close to the 41MP of the Nokia model.  Perhaps something to put on that Christmas wish list is a new camera phone.
 
Now that you have cameras to cover everything, where do you store all the pictures?  There are lots of online photo sharing sites like Flickr. com and Google Photo, (Formerly Picasa) plus sites like Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and many others.  Try and find one area, either online or on a computer, to store all your photographs for easy sorting later. 
 
 I use Google Photos on Google+ because it syncs up all the photos I take with my Smartphone immediately.  I also have an Eye-Fi digital storage card for my camera which also uploads my photos in real time to Google for sorting.  If you haven’t heard of Eye-Fi, you should check out their products.  Built in to your Standard SD card is a WiFi chip which connects to your wireless network and sends the pictures you take to an online storage site where you can transfer them to an online portal.  Makes it quick and easy to get your pictures and start sorting them.
 
This holiday, take lots of pictures and enjoy the company of those around you.  Who knows, many years from now, those candid camera phone shots may be some of your best memories.
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Tech Tip: using Crowd sourcing for holiday ideas

#TechTip Use Social media to crowd source recipes or decorating ideas, but NOT gift ideas. Might tip someone off.

What makes Social Media so “Social”, is the interaction that comes from communicating ideas with your group of friends or followers.  I have talked in the past about how you can ask Google a question by typing it in and seeing what information pops up, but asking a question of those on social media outlets is going to give you the best responses.  The idea is called “Crowd Sourcing”

The term crowd sourcing comes from the idea of Outsourcing, where you have someone else do something for you.  It can be anything from cleaning to designing a new circuit board for a phone.  Outsourcing is commonly used in business. The idea of crowd sourcing is putting a question or thought out on social media and asking for assistance with it.

The holidays are the perfect time to try this out.  If you are looking for assistance with anything from decorating to holiday party planning, crowd sourcing may be your answer.

Give it a try.  Ask your friends and followers a simple question and see who responds.  The day of our recent snow storm, I asked everyone on Facebook and Twitter if they thought snow tires on a front wheel drive car or All Wheel Drive cars without snow tires would be better on the roads.  The response I got was incredible.  (The overwhelming answer, by the way, was snow tires).

Taking that example, and applying it to holiday planning ideas should net you some pretty good responses.  My one caveat though: don’t crowd source gift ideas.  Only because the answers might make it to the person you are getting the gift for.

The other bonus of crowd sourcing at the holidays is that it gives you a chance to interact with friends you may have lost touch with over the year.  Catch up with them and wish them well!

Tech Tip: Using Social Media to hide an elf in creative ways

#TechTip do you have an Elf on the Shelf looking for places to go? Pinterest has lots of places for the elf to hide, as does Google

For those of you with kids, You’ve probably heard of the Elf on a Shelf.  For those that haven’t, its the story of a little elf who

Elf-on-the-Shelf

comes out and watches the kids for Santa to see if they are being naughty or nice.  The story itself, comes with a little elf that is supposed to hide around the house watching the kids.  This is where it gets creative.

Parents enjoy hiding the elf around different areas of the house as a little treat for the kids.  Each morning, the elf may be up to something different.  Perhaps hanging from a ceiling light, or in the Christmas tree.  Maybe its in a closet peeking out, or hanging out with the childs other toys.

Depending on when the Elf makes an appearance in December, there may be a number of days that the elf has to find places to hide, and it can get hard finding new places to hide it.

Thank you Social Media, has a quick Google search will help you find lots of ideas on where the elf can sneek away.  Pinterest is also a great place to look, especially for pictures of the elf in different locations.  Some are creative, others are the elf up to no good!  You can pick your favourite search engines, or go right to Pinterest and enter “Elf on the Shelf ideas” and BINGO! a plethora of new and interesting ways for the elf to find a home that night.

Also, consider setting a reminder on your smartphone to have the elf find a new place every night.  You wouldn’t want the elf to forget to go somewhere new and make the kiddies wonder what happened!

Tech Tip: Automatic Alerts to your phone to stay connected

#TechTip for news junkies, set up news alerts to your phone for breaking stories or to stay up to date on current events

News is breaking every day all over.  Staying on top of it can be a full time job.  Whether you are a news junkie, or just want to know whats happening the world, breaking news alerts are a great tool to help you connect with the world around you.

Many news sites offer breaking news alerts or subscription services.  This usually involves setting up an account on the news website and telling them what you are interested in.  CBC News, for example, offers their subscription service that will email you alerts based on what you have requested.  They offer everything from Breaking news, to news digests based on the geographical area you are most interested in.  Email alerts will arrive in your inbox so you don’t have to keep refreshing their website every 5 minutes to see if something new has happened in the world.

If you want something a little more immediate and you have a specific topic you want news on, consider getting the news right from the source.  Many journalists get breaking news from the Canadian News Wire, which offers press releases for businesses and organizations.  When a company or government has something to say in Canada, they will often issue press releases.  Setting up an account and planning what you want to get news about is a great way to stay on top of a story before it even breaks in the news.

I have also said many times, one of the best ways to get breaking news is through Twitter.  Before news breaks on TV, often people are talking about it and sharing it.  Not only is it a great way to find breaking news, its also great to follow ongoing stories.  During major events, update can often be found on the Twitter accounts of those closest to the story.  During recent storms and environmental emergencies, Governments and organizations provided updates on their twitter feeds to keep the public up to date on what was going on.  Over the summer, for example, when a major storm caused flooding and power outages in the Greater Toronto Area, local power utilities were issuing statements saying what areas were without power and where crews were working to restore.  Their social media teams did a good job responding to requests for information and providing updates.

Keeping updated is easy, but filtering information so only the right information comes at the right time is critical to avoid information overload.

TechTip: Using 2 Factor Authentication for secure access to websites

#TechTip Use 2 factor authentication for the websites that have it. Makes it that much harder to hack & will alert you if someone tries

We continue our week of Password protection in our Tech Tips blog for the week.  As we mentioned the past few days, changing your password is important, and choosing a password that is complex enough not to be broken easily is essential to online security.  Along with that, each online login should have its own password, and you should use a password manager to keep them all secured.

Today we look at 2 Factor authentication.  Many website are starting to implement this to increase security to its users by making it difficult for someone just with a password to access your account.

What is 2 Factor Authentication?

800px-SecureID_token_newThe concept behind 2 factor authentication is that you basically have 2 passwords: Your normal password, and a separately generated password that is given to you each time you log on, or an item that you must use to access your information.  You may be most familiar with 2 factor authentication in the corporate world using secure login tokens.  When a company needs you to log into their secure computer system, you will have to enter your password, as well as a code generated in the token key.  Typically these systems have been reserved for businesses who can afford the high security, but not it is becoming made available to average users through different means.

For portals like Gmail, Google has introduced 2 factor authentication using text messages sent to your smartphone.  When you activate it and log on, a text message with a 6 digit code is sent via SMS to your mobile phone.  You then enter that number into the next screen after your password and then you are let in.  The obvious benefit to this is that even if someone gets your password, they won’t be able to access your email unless they can also intercept that text message.

Twitter as well has added additional verification as a security feature to your twitter account.  Twitter has both SMS verification as well as a feature built into the Twitter app for Android and iOS phones which require you to have your smartphone when you log into Twitter.  This ensures that anyone wishing to access your account will need both your password and your smartphone to get in.  More information on Twitters additional verification features can be found on their Support page.

PayPal has its own version of 2 factor authentication which includes either SMS or a digital token.  When you log on to your enabled Paypal account, you will be asked for a second step.  You can either have an SMS message sent to your phone, or you can get one of their authentication tokens.  They use a credit card sized token that generates a new passcode every time you press the button on the card.  It costs a few dollars to get the card, but its good security if you don’t want to use the SMS feature.

If you are concerned about access to a particular site, you can look in their help sections to see if they provide additional sign in options that will give you the extra security you need.

Tech Tip: Use a Password manager to keep track of all those different logins

#TechTip Use a password manager to record all logins and have 1 master password to access it.

As we continue on with our theme this week of password safety, Lets talk about how to keep track of all those passwords.

Previously, we discussed about how many passwords you need.  As stated, its strongly suggested you have a different password for each online portal you access.  The reason of course being if one of your passwords is compromised, it won’t affect all of your online platforms.  Changing one password isn’t too bad;  changing 50 or 100 would be torture!

So with so many logins and passwords, how do you keep track of them all?

I strongly recommend getting some password management software.  Yes you could always go for the good ol’ notebook with everything written down, but what happens if you lose that book?  You can also keep track of them in a document or spreadsheet file.  They would be backed up, but not necessarily secure.  Unless the file is encrypted or password protected, then it is vulnerable to prying eyes.  Even if you do have an electronic document that is encrypted, searching through many logins could be arduous to find that one login you need.

There are a number of great programs available to help you manage your passwords. Lets take a quick look at some of them.

KeePass

KeePass screenshot

KeePass screenshot

Personally I am a fan of KeePass Password safe.  It is a program that requires a password to open it up and houses a database of all the logins, passwords and site URLs for the web portals you visit.  It stores lots of information, and allows you to generate a random password based on the criteria you ask of it.  So if you are having trouble thinking up random gibberish for your passwords, let this program take care of it for you.

You can sort your password into categories, such as for home, work passwords or online stores to help keep things organized.  If you have lots of passwords, there is also a search feature which will let you find your login credentials easily.

This is also one of the few programs that works on most platforms available.  It is free and Open Source, and there are versions that work on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7, as well as a portable version designed for USB drives.  They may have slightly different names for the different versions because each version is created a little differently to work with the Operating System it is designed for, and some are compatible with slightly different versions of the database, so do a little research with this one depending on what platform you have.

LastPass

Another popular program for managing your passwords is LastPass.  There is both a free version as well as a premium version which includes a mobile component.

Where KeePass is solely a single database of your passwords, LastPass also integrates with an online portion that manages and syncs up your passwords.  The database may be synced online, but the password key to unlocking it is always stored locally so there is little to no risk of having it hacked online in the cloud. It shares similar traits to KeePass, but can also track the sites you visit so it can auto populate logins and passwords where needed.

LastPass has gone to great lengths to have it work on as many browsers and operating systems as possible so you can be comfortable using it on multiples devices, even if they are different technology.  The premium cost is around $1/month

 

Ironkey

We will go into more depth on the Ironkey in a future blog post.  For those that know I am a fan of the Ironkey for its security, but it too also has a password manager built into it.  Like LastPass it can detect what site you are visiting and auto populate the login and password info you need.  It also has a virtual keyboard that can pop up so you can enter passwords using your mouse, thus preventing any key logger malware from detecting your passwords.  The Ironkey solution will be talked about more soon, so stay tuned for that.

Now you know a little more about how to keep your logins secure, and keep your passwords safe.  While it may take a while to go through and adjust all your passwords and log the entries into your password database, doing it once and only once is a savings than having to worry about doing it everytime you one and only password for everything is compromised.

Check out our blog again soon for more tips on security online and password protection.

Tech Tip: Use different passwords for all your online portals

#TechTip: use a different password for each online portal. It will limit your exposure if 1 password is compromised
Today’s Tech Tip blog continues on our theme from yesterday.  Passwords are making it back in the news after last weeks announcement that close to 2 million passwords were stolen from major web portals.  Yesterday we talked about what you should include in your password.  Today we cover how many passwords you need.
The short answer:  Lots!
Yes, it is easy to have 1 password that you use on everything.  Makes it easy to log into sites you don’t normally access and keeps everything nice and clean.  However the more sites you have with the same password means you are opening yourself up to a greater level of exposure.  It is important, especially on popular sites like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter (basically all high profile social media sites) to maintain different passwords for each site.
If you are afraid of remembering all your passwords, you can alter each password by only a few digits and make sure to can figure out which password is for each site.  Even better is is a completely different, random password for each site.
How do I remember all my passwords if you need me to have dozens or hundreds of different passwords?
That is the topic for our next blog post on password management.  Stay tuned.