Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tweety Bird

This year for Lent I gave up Facebook. I had no idea it would be this difficult. Sure, laugh, but I admit I'm a social animal. I'm perservering though - I didn't give up Twitter. While I've missed the personal social interaction that Facebook provides, Twitter continues to meet more of my daily information needs. As I learn more about it, the Twitter world grows more appealing as it merges the world of instant messaging, blogging, emailing, and search.

With Twitter I follow people who send out short tweets, no more than 140 characters in length. The tweets may contain a link to more information: a picture, video, or article. I send tweets myself as well, but for the most part I use Twitter as an information tool. It's especially handy to follow specific events. For example, last month the state high school basketball tournament was held in Massachusetts. I came across a tweet that mentioned @BostonHeraldHS and @BHallESPN would be tweeting from various tournament games. So I went to their profiles and started following them. Following someone on Twitter is easy - so long as their profiles are public, it's just a matter of pressing the Follow button. Some Twitter users have more security, and you need to get approved as one of their followers (I usually avoid those tweeters, as I'm not looking for the personal social experience on Twitter).

Back to following specific events... that night, unable to attend the Franklin vs. Madison Park playoff game (I was at my son's 5th grade tournament game), I monitored my Twitter newsfeed to see if there were any updates from the Franklin game. Once I saw one, I went to that user's profile and started following his tweets. Believe it or not, it was exciting, tweets were sent out on this user's profile rapidly - his followers responding as well as sending their own updates. I could see every tweet that originated from @BHallESPN or included him in other tweets... amazingly enough, via Twitter, I was at 2 games simultaneously (one in person) with many basketball voices giving descriptions of what was going on in my head. After my son's game ended, a few of the other parents huddled around me and asked for updates from the Franklin game... scary, eh?! My son read the tweets to me while I drove home... he was into it, responding with oohs and ahhs before reading them to me while I drove (let's be careful out there - don't tweet and drive!). Back in the day we would've waited for the paper the next day to read about the game. I have to say this was much more entertaining.

I receive music and spiritual updates from Twitter as well. I attended @Springsteen's first concert virtually, and get many updates from various people tweeting about their faith. Twitter is handy for following specific members of the news, sports and weather media. I've never been more up to date on weather and current events. Of course, the more I use it, the better I get at weeding through the noise and false data that's posted... there are some trustworthy and informative posters out there, and some entertaining posters as well.

Twitter also provides an interesting search engine. Consider this: Twitter servers are handling greater than 1,000 tweets per second. It is mining an incredible volume of real-time information on any given topic at any time. Currently over 12,000 queries per second are processed by Twitter. You can read about Twitter's search engine technology. People are actively searching trends and # hash-tags that are added to many tweets. Trending occurs with the tracking of tweets on certain topics. Where else will you get real-time data like this?

I've also used Twitter to contact companies. I had a problem with a software product once that was quickly answered via Twitter after no response from my attempts to contact them via email and phone. I'm not surprised companies are monitoring Twitter - they don't want any negative information about their products to be out there for long periods of time. Information spreads rapidly in the Twitter world.

Twitter is perfect for the mobile platform. Since the tweets are short, 140 characters or less, a good mobile app can display many tweets on the screen. I access Twitter on my Android phone using the Plume app. There are many apps available for all platforms. Are you ready to start using Twitter? Here's a nice short guide to get you started.

I've read where Twitter can be a tool to improve the education experience. I would have scoffed at the notion a few months ago... now I'm not so sure.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter @ralphfyoung.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Don't Pay A Ransom

It's time for some spring cleaning.  While still February, it feels like spring is in the air, and so is ransomware.  What is ransomware?  One of many malware trends: a malicious software that criminals install on your computer.  The criminal can lock your computer from a remote location.  Then you'll get a warning that your computer is locked and you can't access it unless you pay.  Unreal.  But it is real.  Of course, you could use the ransomware opportunity to reformat your hard drive, re-install your operating system, and then re-install all your data from your current backup.  Oh, you don't have a backup?  Never mind.

The best defense is to keep any form of malware from ever getting to your computer.  Here are some steps you should be taking (geared toward Windows users):

  • Keep your firewall turned on
  • Install the automatic updates - many are security updates that combat the latest threats
  • Never click on links in emails unless you know it's a trusted source, and be extra careful about downloading attachments
  • Use strong passwords, check their strength here: Password Strength.
  • Scan, scan, and scan again.  There are free products that do a great job keeping your system free of malware, some are: AVG Free, MalwareBytes Free, as well as Microsoft Security Essentials.  I'd recommend running multiple scanners until you find one you're comfortable with that doesn't compromise system performance.
  • Minimize spam with a solid email client.  GMail is tough to beat.  GMail makes available advanced sign-in security, which will go a long ways toward eliminating those mass spam emails to everyone in your contact list.  

There are other steps you can take, enabling User Account Control is one, but we'll keep it simple for now.  Mac users may chuckle and say, "get a Mac", but the Mac has it's own share of malware as well.

What do you do to keep your system free of malware?