Thursday, April 17, 2014

Radio days

It's no secret that conventional media outlets are experiencing historic difficulties. Plummeting advertising revenues and increasingly fractured audiences are challenging newspapers, television stations and radio outlets as never before. The Internet's ruthless ability to deconstruct legacy industries continues, and conventional media continues to do itself no favors by ignoring the threat for as long as it has.

Radio isn't immune from the grind, as local stations across the country grapple with the need to do more with less. Once fully-staffed facilities can look like ghost towns after successive waves of layoffs and downsizings. Listeners looking for voices of stability and reason have been repeatedly disappointed as their favorites are time and again shown the door.

This week, the merry-go-round claimed two of this region's best. And unlike past layoffs where I've shrugged my shoulders and explained it away as "one of those things," I feel compelled to share my thoughts this time out.

On Monday, a producer from 570 News in Kitchener reached out to me to book an interview with Gary Doyle. Gary's been in the biz for close to 3 decades, and has become a mentor to me as I've built my own practice as a journalist and analyst. I frequently speak with him on-air about tech stuff, and have always enjoyed how he "does" an interview. It isn't about the Q&A. He really speaks to you. Really cares about the topic. Makes it personal. Real. He's the kind of interviewer I've always wanted to be. The kind of guy I've been listening to ever since I can remember so I can learn how it's done right.

I agreed to the interview and we set up a time for Tuesday morning. As I've often done, I dropped it onto my calendar and went back to my regularly scheduled programming.

Late that evening, however, the producer emailed me letting me know Gary wouldn't be in, so someone else would be doing the hit. No biggie, I thought, as I dashed off a reply, hoping Gary wasn't down with a cold or something similar.

When I did a quick scan of social media, however, I saw a snippet that Jeff Allan, Gary's colleague and another longtime guide-figure to me, had been laid off. And sure enough by the next morning, Gary had confirmed online that he, too, had been shown the door.

I get that radio station leads make business decisions all the time, but forgive me if I disagree with the logic behind this particular move. Eventually, a community reaches the point at which it can no longer stand idly by and watch while corner office-dwellers in distant locales - 570 News is owned by Rogers, a massive telecom conglomerate based in Toronto - make remote control decisions that upset the lives of people they've likely never even met. I'm willing to bet whoever pulled the trigger on Gary's and Jeff's jobs never even listened to the show, never even spoke with a listener to understand why they tuned in every day, never bothered to give a damn about the after-effects of their spreadsheet-based decision.

Since this news went public, social media has been scorched with ticked off listeners who are sick of being left out of an equation that sells their loyalty to advertisers. And understandably so. Because if good people continue to be shuffled into oblivion and content continues to be winnowed down to the point of irrelevance, maybe that loyalty needs a bit of a rethink. And maybe this industry needs a rethink, as well.

Wherever Gary and Jeff end up, I hope I continue to be in a position to find some way to work with them again. They're really that good. But in light of who calls the shots in a business where doing the right thing - with the right people, and for the right reason - doesn't seem to matter now as much as it once did, I fear we're fighting a losing battle for the next generation of broadcasters, of folks like Gary and Jeff, and anyone else who still thinks radio (and, let's face it, TV, newspapers and magazines) is a value-added contributor to the life of a community.

The dark forces won this week, and I wish I knew how to finally beat them back into the cave where they belong.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heartbleed continues: RCMP charge 19-year-old London man

This is just breaking now: the RCMP have charged a 19-year-old London, Ontario man, Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes, in connection with the breach of 900 Social Insurance Numbers from the Canada Revenue Agency website.

More to come...

Cat needs a new home

Gang, I'd like you to meet Mickey. As you can see from these photos, she's a healthy - okay, very healthy - cat who clearly leads a very charmed life. She's around 10 years-old, and up until now she's been owned by our good friend's mom.

Sadly, this furry little girl needs to find a new home soon. Ideally, it'll be someone in the London or broader southwestern Ontario region, and someone who clearly loves cats as much as her current owner does.

Mickey is healthy, spayed, and her shots are all up-to-date. If you know of anyone who can adopt her, please either let me know - leave a comment here - or feel free to forward the link to this blog entry along.

Thanks for your help. As you know, I've got a soft spot for pets, especially when they come from great families who just can't keep them anymore. I know that somewhere in our 'hood, there's a lovely new family just waiting to welcome Mickey into their home.

Meow.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On pursuing passion

"I would rather die of passion than of boredom."
Vincent van Gogh
I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about finding work that feeds the soul. And as we were chatting I realized too few of us are doing that. We're letting ourselves slide into the groove of doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff, without ever feeling - really feeling - anything remotely approaching passion.

The prospect of this saddens me for a whole lot of reasons, primarily because we haven't been given enough days to fritter them away on nothingness. Pursuing your passion may indeed expose you to a greater degree of risk - of falling flat on your face, of losing what you had in the first place, of diverging from the path that others may have laid out for you, whatever - but never taking steps toward whatever it is that fuels your soul strikes me as the greatest risk of all.

Your turn: What feeds your passion?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thematic Photographic 290 - Hungry?

Dog. No blanket.
London, ON
March 2014
No need to state the obvious - but I'll do it anyway because that's what I do: This is a weird picture. I shot it because I was sitting at the kitchen table with our daughter, and I got it into my head that I wanted to have a little fun with her. Because she's that kind of kid, and I'm that kind of dad.

And it occurred to me that I haven't been shooting food lately as much as I used to. Which made me sad. Because food photography - dare I call it food porn? - is one of the more interesting subsets of photography, and one that connects nicely with all of us. Because we all have to eat. And we all need a reason or two to smile.

Your turn: Find some food, shoot it, share it, comment here. Visit others. Repeat through the week. Click here for more background on how Thematic Photographic works. And enjoy. Because photography should always be something we enjoy whether we're in front of or behind the lens, and whether or not we're eating at the time.

Someone at US Airways is getting fired...

...or has already been fired.

This after someone with access to the airline's Twitter account tweeted a lewd photo this afternoon in response to a customer complaint. The customer started the ball rolling by tweeting this at the airline: "You ruined my spring break, I want some free stuff." And the airline responded with, let's not mince words, porn.

I won't link to the pic because it's highly NSFW, involving a woman doing something with a model plane that no model plane should ever have to endure. But I'm guessing it's still floating around Google's index. And probably will be forever. Add another chapter to my ever-lengthening manual of things I wish I never had to explain to my kids, but now have to.

Social media's ability to turn a small chunk of data into an immediate viral sensation is well known. So is its ability to ruin a career with one finger on a touchscreen or click of a mouse. Good times.

After another day chasing Heartbleed fallout, it was nice to end the day with a much-needed laugh. Well, at least we're laughing. Can't say the same for whoever was running the airline's Twitter account today.

Related links:
US Airways Just Tweeted Out One Of The Most Graphic Things You’ve Ever Seen A Brand Tweet (BuzzFeed)
US Airways apologizes for lewd photo sent via Twitter (USA Today)
Bad day? At least you're not running the US Airways Twitter account (Globe & Mail)
38 Priceless Twitter Reactions to That NSFW US Airways Tweet (Mashable)

Heartbleed...first security breach confirmed

I've been saying all along that it's only a matter of time before web administrators report back that user data had been compromised as a result of the Heartbleed bug.

Simply put, Heartbleed left the front door unlocked. We weren't sure, however, if anyone had walked in the door and taken anything.

Now we know. The Canada Revenue Agency today confirmed that approximately 900 Social Insurance Numbers belonging to Canadian taxpayers were breached during a six-hour period. The agency continues to investigate if additional data was compromised, as well. Full statement here.

What does it mean? This is the first of many such announcements. When two-thirds of the world's web servers are affected by a weakness like this, the mathematics make it virtually inevitable that more breaches will be reported in the days and weeks to come. Because hackers never met a weakness they couldn't try to exploit.

Human nature, I guess.

More to come...

Updates;
  • I spoke with CTV News Channels Jacqueline Milczarek at 9 a.m. Video here.
  • Frances Horodelski interviewed me for her show, Business Day, on BNN.
  • Chatted live with CP24's Karman Wong.
  • Spoke with Sun News Network's Pat Bolland and Gina Phillips.
  • Interviewed by CBC News Network's Reshmi Nair.
  • Spoke with Russ Courtney from NewsTalk 1010 Toronto, Al Coombs from 1290 CJBK London, Trudie Mason and Aaron Rand from Montreal's CJAD 800, Dean Recksiedler from News1130 in Vancouver, and Richard Cloutier from 680 CJOB in Winnipeg.
I'm percolating other snippets of coverage as we speak, and will add them here as the day plays out.

Additional perspectives to keep in mind:
  • We saw this coming and it was only a matter of time before the first Heartbleed-related breach was reported. This is a warning sign to all businesses that they'd better batten down the security hatches. We - companies, individuals, governments, etc. - just aren't spending enough on security-related tools, infrastructure, people and processes. And Heartbleed is the price we pay for this priority mismatch.
  • The CRA is reporting 900 SINs were compromised. Dollars to donuts that number grows in the days to come, and it won't be limited to SINs, either. It's like boiling the frog: start slow and gradually raise the temperature.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 dead in Jewish center shootings

Just when you think the world isn't sufficiently depraved...

A gunman shot at least three people to death in two separate shootings this afternoon at Jewish community facilities in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. Police say two people died at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City campus in Overland Park, and one person died at the Village Shalom assisted living facility a few blocks away. (Story from KSHB Kansas City). A 15-year-old boy is in critical condition.

As the suspect was taken into custody, reports say he said "heil Hitler."

Story link here
You'll pardon me if this hits a little close to home. Our little town has a JCC, as well, and my family and I practically live on the campus that includes the center, a seniors' apartment building, a school, and a synagogue. Just this afternoon, probably around the time this idiot was hunting people down, I was parking my car in our local JCC's parking lot. Our kids often idly wonder about the police cars parked across the way, or the officers who stand guard during festivals or times of raised international tensions or threats. And just like I felt when I was their age, they feel vulnerable. All because they're Jews.

So you'll also pardon me if I shake my head at the growing intolerance that seems to be spreading into every nook and cranny of this planet. I grew up surrounded by enough people who hated me not because they knew anything about me - they didn't - but for the simple fact that I was a Jew. I grew up surrounded by the first-hand stories of those who had survived the Holocaust. I grew up surrounded by those who deny any of this is a problem. I go online today and witness it each and every day.

Well here's the thing: It remains very much a problem. And today, some psycho came looking for the Jews. Tomorrow, I'm quite certain they'll come looking for anyone else - maybe even you.

Update - 11:25 pm ET: Officials have confirmed the suspect is one Frazier Glenn Cross, and he will face charges of pre-meditated first degree murder when he makes his first court appearance in the morning. Here's the snippet from the CNN piece:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, described Cross as a longtime, "raging anti-Semite" who has posted extensively in an online forum that advocates exterminating Jews.
And here's more from CNN.

Related:
KCTV5 CBS Kansas City
Associated Press
Reddit 2014 mass shooting tracker

On the meaning of family

"Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten."
David Ogden Stiers
Nice sentiment. If only more of us followed it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Instagram is down. World stops.

After a week of never-ending computer-related craziness thanks to something that meant absolutely nothing to most of us barely seven days ago (cough, Heartbleed, cough), we face an online tragedy of unprecedented impact.

Yes, folks, Instagram is apparently down.

The popular photo sharing and tagging service, now owned by Facebook, mysteriously stopped functioning earlier this morning. To no one's surprise, Twitter and Facebook have exploded with chatter from users who seem to have no clue what to do with themselves now.

May I make a suggestion? Go outside. Walk the dog. Call your mom. Grab a few cables and give them a really good yank. Enjoy life.

Because it doesn't always revolve around an app. And joy isn't necessarily exclusively derived from random assemblies of broadband-fed pixels.

With that, I'm off. Back soon. Or maybe later. Whenever.

Al Jazeera!

So I had an interesting interview yesterday.

With Al Jazeera.

(!)

I spoke with correspondent Daniel Lak about the - say it with me - Heartbleed vulnerability.
Video is here: Heartbleed bug shuts down Canadian websites
Story is here: Governments warn of Heartbleed bug threat
I'm guessing my rather tumultuous world of journalism world grew a little bit this week. I've long called this journey of mine somewhat surreal and  more than a little blessed. After this latest neat piece of news, I'm starting to think that I may be right.

What a ride.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The busy signal fades to silence

Click graphic to enlarge
I'm pretty lucky in a whole lot of ways. First, I'm here. Never underestimate the power of simply being on this planet. Next, I'm able to communicate. I say or write stuff, and for reasons that still make no sense to me - but for which I am eternally grateful - folks listen and respond. You can touch people with words, and that's an immensely gratifying thing.

So when I idly tapped out this tweet late last week and hit the send button, I didn't give much thought to it. I had just called someone and got a busy signal - a simple moment, really, and likely not one worth holding onto. But I held onto it anyway because I'm guessing my brain works in weird ways.
And as I held the phone to my ear and listened to the repeating tone, I realized I hadn't heard it in ages. I froze, not quite sure what to do next. As a pondered the absurdity of it all, I slowly realized that something fundamental had changed, yet I was too busy with everything else to have even noticed.

Thankfully my friend Dan Brown wasn't too busy. He writes for the London Free Press, and in short order had pulled together a pitch for an article and reached out to me for comment. We chatted about what it meant, and almost by osmosis - I think he reads minds - the theme almost seemed to form itself. I've posted his article here, and you can find it online here, as well: Busy signal - a blast from the past.

All of this has made me wonder. Because it's been an overwhelmingly difficult week and I find myself looking for touchstones, for opportunities to think about where all of this chaos and uncertainty fits. And here's what I've managed to come up with:

There's a subtlety to the evolution of technology, and its effect on our everyday life, that we tend to ignore. We respond intelligently to email while we fill the grocery cart. We keep projects moving forward even when we're nowhere near civilization. What used to have to wait until we were back in the office at a "real" computer can now be quickly taken care of on a device we carry in our hand.

In the middle of a frenetic day of activity yesterday, I sprinted back to my car after an interview and paused before I got in to send an email before I got back on the road. As I madly thumb-typed an answer that I hoped would lock in my next couple of assignments, I remembered that just a few short years ago I would have had to drive home first and hope I hadn't missed anything "while I was out." Well, "while you were out" is no longer part of our lexicon, and the busy signal, that stalwart dividing line between available and not available, is now more of a curiosity than anything else, something that elicits a crinkled brow from my kids. And apparently from me, as well.

Part of me wishes we did more to hold onto more pieces of our technological legacy. I'm starting to feel more reverent toward the things that once defined us but have since been replaced. It happens so quickly and subtly that I fear we're losing pieces of ourselves in the process.

I wonder what else will soon join the busy signal in that slow fade to history. And I wonder if we'll take the time to notice that it's gone.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jim Flaherty has passed away

Canada is an interesting place. Our celebrity culture doesn't tend to revolve around spray-tanned entertainers. Instead, we revere hockey players, songwriters, authors, and politicians.

On that last one, we may despise an individual's particular spectrum of political beliefs, but we always find a way to admire the conviction and passion that the individual brings to the table. It's why Members of Parliament can battle - often physically - on the floor of the House of Commons, yet somehow come together when the universe dictates humanity.

Sadly, they'll be coming together sooner than anyone had hoped. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty died today at the age of 64. He resigned his post and resigned from politics less than a month ago, and was replaced by Joe Oliver. He had been Finance Minister for eight years, an eternity in this role, and managed to pilot the country through the worst of the recession with a fairly steady hand. I was privileged to follow his career, and wrote often about him, his policies, and their impact on the tech space.

Mr. Flaherty represented the Conservatives, and whether you "got" his political leanings or not, he was a leader who managed to keep everything in balance when leaders around the world were seemingly losing their grasp.

He'll be missed, and may his memory influence others to pursue the steady, righteous course.

Related links:
Jim Flaherty Was a Man Whose Humanity Trumped His Politics, Glen Pearson, The Huffington Post

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

My heart bleeds for you

I woke up early this morning to the sound of a ringing cell phone - one of the risks of being a media nerd, I guess. The big news of the day is a scary one: researchers have discovered a security vulnerability that could affect upwards of two-thirds of all web sites currently online. It's called the Heartbleed Vulnerability, and it means these sites may have made it relatively easy for complete strangers - hackers and curious, tech-savvy children alike - to "scrape" websites and obtain personal information, up to and including usernames and passwords.

I chatted with CBC News Network's Heather Hiscox via Skype and NewsTalk 1010's John Moore to explain what it means. And what it means is this: IF (a deliberately big IF) a hacker or curious tech-savvy child manages to exploit vulnerability, he/she/it could subsequently log in as you and have all sorts of fun on your behalf. So before you do anything, change your passwords.

Now, Chicken Little isn't running screaming through the town square, and there is no reason for mass panic. It's a vulnerability, a latent weakness that some computer scientists happened to stumble upon. The affected web site owners are already aware of the issue, a fix has been made available, and everyone is busy patching things up so that this security hole will no longer remain open. There is no evidence that squillions of people were actually victimized. This is all potential.

But it's always a given that something this high-profile, this widespread and this potentially insidious will get some big headlines. And that's what we're seeing now. So for now, change your passwords, watch for updates from the major websites that you deal with - for email, banking, healthcare, government, etc. - that confirms they've fixed things on their end, and go on with your lives. The world will indeed continue to spin about its axis.

Your turn: Freaked? Not? Are we getting tired of the never-ending stream of online risks and security breaches?

Media:

It was a busy day in techland thanks to this story. I wrote this article for Yahoo Canada:
Heartbleed fallout could drive fundamental change
And this one for Bell Media's TheLoop.ca:
Heartbleed - the 2 things you must do now to protect yourself
I did a bunch of interviews to support this story. In no particular order, here they are:
  • CBC News Network - spoke  with Heather Hiscox - spoke twice in the a.m., first about Heartbleed, then again when the CRA story broke. Story here.
  • CTV News Channel - live with Jacqueline Milczarek via FaceTime on Wednesday, and live from CTV London with Jennifer Burke (password apps) on Thursday
  • CP24 - live with Nathan Downer
  • CTV National News - report by Omar Sachedina (video here and here)
  • Global National - report by Mike Drolet (video here)
  • The Toronto Star - article by  Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew, Reports that NSA knew about Heartbleed Bug unleash fresh worries
  • Sun News Network - spoke live with Pat Bolland, and again live about 20 minutes later with Adrienne Batra, both via Skype. 
  • NewsTalk 1010 Toronto - Spoke with John Moore twice in the morning (story/audio here), then Jerry Agar before lunch, then Ryan Doyle for the drive home, then John Downs before tuck-in. Thursday morning, John Moore and I chatted again about password apps (see TheLoop article below), and on Saturday I yakked with Ted Woloshyn.
  • CJAD Montreal - Tommy Schnurmacher on Wednesday morning, and Andrew Carter on Thursday morning.
  • CKTB Niagara - Larry Fedoruk. Story here.
  • 1290 CJBK London - Al Coombs - updated London listeners every day this week, in addition to my weekly Tuesday tech segment with Mike Stubbs.
  • AM980 London - Craig Needles. Story here.
  • 570News Kitchener - Gary Doyle (Story here: Leading tech expert advises to take internet security precautions)
  • CHED Edmonton - Tencer and Grose
  • CJME Regina - Kevin Martel
I also did a series of interviews with the CBC Radio Syndication unit, including
  • St. John's - Ted Blades (On The Go)
  • Yellowknife - Allison Devereaux (Trails End)
  • Victoria - Jo-Ann Roberts (All Points West)
  • Edmonton - Portia Clark (Radio Active)
  • Saskatchewan - Craig Lederhouse  (Afternoon Edition)
  • Toronto - Gill Deacon (Here and Now)
  • Halifax - Stephanie Domet (Mainstreet)
  • Calgary - Doug Dirks (Homestretch)
  • New Brunswick - Paul Castle (Shift)
  • Kelowna - Rebecca Zandbergen (Radio West)
  • Montreal - Shawn Apel (Home Run)
  • Sudbury - Jason Turnbull (Points North)
  • Ottawa - Alan Neal (All in a Day)
  • Winnipeg - Ismaila Alfa (Up to Speed)
  • Whitehorse - Tara McCarthy (Airplay)
  • Windsor - Bob Steele (The Bridge)
Update - Friday:
  • New information shows that some equipment from Cisco and Juniper - the leading providers of Internet infrastructure - is also potentially compromised. This takes an already-huge-scope story and makes it even bigger.
  • A German developer, Robin Seggelmann, has come forward and said that he accidentally released the flawed code approximately two years ago. He said he was only trying to update the OpenSSL code, but inadvertently introduced the fatal flaw, which a fellow developer subsequently failed to catch.
Related links:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

On improving the world, 1 step at a time

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
Anne Frank
Your turn: If it starts now - and I see no reason why it shouldn't - how will you be improving the world? For my part, I think I'll keep it simple by taking a walk with my daughter tonight. Because time spent is time invested. And she'll always have that no matter what happens. Over to you...

Related: Tikkun Olam, from an interview I did with Melissa Bartell as few years back.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Thematic Photographic 289 - Everything's gone green

Parked
Kitchener, ON
July 2013

Click photo to embiggen
Spring has finally sprung here in the Great White North, which can mean only one thing: our world is about to explode in a riot of green.

I've been watching for the buds, and the rose-colored-glasses optimist in me figures it'll happen this week. So in anticipation of life returning to the landscape once again, I wanted to celebrate the color green. We'll start with this decidedly concrete example (kudos to the City of Kitchener for doing parking structures right, btw) and hopefully by week's end we'll have something natural to share.

Of course, if you're in the southern hemisphere, grab whatever you've got. We're an equal opportunity planetary photographic society.

Your turn: Shoot something green, then post it to your blog or website (or Facebook, or Tumblr, or wherever...) then pop over here and leave a comment to let everyone know where to find it. Check back through the week to see what everyone else is up to, and be sure to follow other participants' links home to share in the fun of it all. If you're new to the Thematic thing, head over here for the rules, such as they are. And please accept my sincere thanks for making this such a special touchpoint every week.

Windows XP is dead

I wrote an article for Yahoo Canada Finance today that really made me think. Here's the link:
As Windows XP dies, the risks rise
You'd think that an operating system almost old enough to have a Bar Mitzvah wouldn't merit much attention. But with the latest figures showing 27 per cent of Internet-connected PCs still running XP - despite a Microsoft campaign to get everyone to switch - the company's decision to stop releasing security updates and discontinue support - tomorrow, April 8 - is the big day - will impact a lot of consumers and businesses. Even if you're not running XP directly, it touches you: 95 per cent of bank ATMs still run it (I wrote about it here.)

Part of me feels somewhat nostalgic, too. Maybe it's the nerd in me, but if you spend enough time using a certain technology in both personal and professional contexts, it eventually becomes second nature, something you don't see as much as feel. XP was a mainline tool for me for so long that it's hard to imagine it disappearing completely.

Even though I now spend most of my time on a Mac and an iPad, it's hard to erase years of exposure to the OS that was likely the most deeply entrenched piece of code of all time. I'll miss that familiar blue status bar and the Teletubby-like desktop photo. Tech generally does a poor job holding onto its own history, and I'm guessing losing XP to the past will be no different.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, whose dominance of the PC-based operating system market stretched from the very first days of the PC to the very recent past, the company now has the most to lose as mobile devices chip away at its once-impregnable market. The age of the monolithic operating system is over, and years from now I doubt we'll be generating headlines when Windows 8 slips into the past.

If you're still one of the legions of users still using XP after the April 8th end-of-support deadline passes, I hope you'll take a moment - after you update your third party security software, of course - to wonder about the millions of lines of code that somehow shaped the past decade-plus of our online lives. It may be just a piece of software, but what a piece of software it was. Definitely the very last of its kind.

Your turn: What operating system(s) is (are) you currently using? Like? Dislike? Why? Why not?

Related link: Forget the do-it-all OS (article I wrote for Insightaas.com)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Mickey Rooney has died

News if breaking late this evening that Mickey Rooney (website, wiki, biography) has passed away at the age of 93. Despite the fact that he predates me, I learned about him and his career through, of all things, an impression on Saturday Night Live. Dana Carvey spoofed the Hollywood legend, and for years we'd joke about being "the biggest star in the world, you hear me?"

Okay, you sort of had to be there. But the fact that a star from yesteryear could live on through a lovingly crafted impression was, at the time, somewhat poignant. We should all be so lucky to be remembered so well.

#TechSeven - The Windows XP edition

I was back on-air this past Friday for our regular tech segment with CJAD 800 Radio in Montreal. Anne Lagace Dowson was sitting in for Barry Morgan, and we had a great chat about obsolete hardware and why it really isn't worth it to keep old tech hanging around much past its best before date. Listeners also called and texted in some great questions, and a good time was had by all.

In case you missed it, here's what we covered:

ONE - Windows XP dies on April 8. Why should you care?

Microsoft's Windows XP operating system for personal computers was first introduced way back in 2001. In technology terms, it's ancient. It's might "just work" for a lot of people - shockingly, almost 30% of Canadian PCs are still running it - but the world has changed significantly since 2001, and keeping it going is like trying to drive a horse-drawn carriage on the 401. Not smart, as you're just asking for something bad to happen.

So Microsoft is finally pulling the plug this coming Tuesday (April 8) when it will release its final security update and stop providing dial-in and online support. While Microsoft will provide anti-malware updates until April 2015, if you continue to use XP after next Tuesday, you'll be at increased risk of being hacked.

If you think that's not a major deal, think again. Hacked machines can be used as launching pads to attack other machines. If your machine is compromised, hackers will use it to go after other machines on your network, as well as friends and family from your contact list. You don't want to be the one who ruins it for everyone else, the one who gets a panicked call from your favourite uncle asking why you sent him an email that linked to a malware-infested porn site (this happened to a good friend of mine. Mortifying.)

So what do you do? Well, if it's an old machine, don't even bother buying an upgrade to the operating system (likely Windows 7 or Windows 8), as the hardware in all likelihood won't be strong enough to handle it. For most users, this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back and forces them to finally buy a new PC. The good news: PCs are a lot cheaper now than they were in 2001.

If you're not sure what you're running, hit up www.amirunningxp.com and it'll tell you whether or not you're running the soon-to-be-obsolete operating system.

TWO - But Microsoft is hoping you'll download their new Windows 8.1 Update 1...

Got a relatively recent desktop or laptop PC running Windows 8? You're in luck: the company, as part of its big Build conference for developers in San Francisco this week, announced an update: Windows 8.1 Update 1, that fixes a lot of the little things Windows users have been complaining about. The tile-based desktop is now much more customizable and easier to use, with buttons for settings located in easier-to-find places.

Will it fix the whole PC-is-dying trend? Not on its own, but it's a free update, so grab it as soon as your PC lets you. And if you're still running XP, this gives you another reason to buy a new machine altogether.

Oh, and to steal a Steve Jobs-ism, one more thing: The Start Menu will return later this year. Long a staple of Windows desktops since Windows 95, its removal when Windows 8 bowed in 2012 has been hotly debated by users ever since. Their complaints have been heard.

THREE - ... and try their new Siri-killer

Microsoft also demonstrated an update to its mobile operating system - Windows Phone 8.1 - that includes something called "Cortana". It's Microsoft's answer to the Siri voice-activated personal assistant. Talk to her (it, whatever) or ask her any question and, like Apple's Siri, she'll reach back into her Bing-powered bag of tricks and give you an answer.

On the surface, it's a better Siri - better integrated into your other apps and activities, so it can be more proactive and predictive in how it works. For example, if you're running late for a meeting, it'll suggest sending invitation change notices to invitees, then suggest an alternative map/routing so you can get there faster. It doesn't just answer questions, it thinks ahead, and actively initiates and completes complex, personalized, localized activities.

All good, but Siri's been around for 2-and-a-half years, and unless you're a geek who compares Siri, Google Now and Cortana with a feature-for-feature spreadsheet, most users don't care.

The glaring hole in Microsoft's mobile strategy - that it doesn't have a lot of apps available for it and developers aren't exactly breaking down the doors to leave Apple and Google - remains. It's why Windows Phone continues to have 3.6 per cent global market share, and why people line up for iPhones and Galaxy S5s and not Nokia Lumias.

FOUR - Can you trust the government with your data? Um, no

Bad news on the security front: the federal government is reporting a shocking number of data breaches. A report to Parliament confirms the number of data breaches has skyrocketed - in the last 10 months along, more of them have been reported than in the past 10 years.

According to an IT World Canada summary:
"During the period between April 1, 2013 and January 29, 2014, federal departments and agencies reported no less than 3,763 data breaches including incidents where taxpayers’ information were lost, compromised or mistakenly released, according to a report by the Privacy Commissioner’s Office. That figure is slightly higher than the 3,000 data breaches reported by the government in the last 10 years."
In fairness, during this period, the Canada Revenue Agency began reporting data breaches for the first time. Unfortunately, the Department of National Defence (DND) refused to release security breach data to Parliament, claiming that to do so would be a threat to national security.

So can you trust the government with your data? No. Can you do anything about it? Strangely, yes. Some tips:
  • When submitting anything to government, back it up and store it locally before sharing it.
  • Use unique, secure passwords when accessing government sites.
  • Check the URL carefully to ensure it's a legitimate site.
  • Look for https-prefixed addresses as well as the lock icon whenever accessing a government site.
  • Only use government-built or sanctioned apps to access online services.
FIVE - Did the U.S. government create a "fake Twitter" to stir Cuban dissent?

An investigation by the Associated Press suggests a U.S. government agency that's part of the U.S. Department of State created a text-message social network - called "ZunZuneo", and also known as a "Cuban Twitter". The network ran between 2009 and 2012, and had 40,000 subscribers before the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ran out of funding for the project.

Cuba's communist government tightly controls citizens' access to telecommunication services, including the Internet, and all media within the island nation is state-controlled. An underground Twitter-like network would, in theory, give dissenters an opportunity to learn more from the outside and communicate with each other, all outside the close watch of the central government.

What does this have to do with us? Lots. Turns out most users in Cuba had no idea it was funded by the U.S. government. Shell companies were set up in Spain and the Cayman Islands, and servers were set up to look like traffic was being routed outside the U.S. USAID created a website and paid for fake web ads to make it all look legit.

So if you're ever wondering who's behind that app you just downloaded, you may want to dig a little deeper to ensure it isn't some covert government agency.

SIX - Tesla cars can apparently be hacked

Tesla electric cars are revolutionary in many ways. Aside from being the first electric vehicle that can easily outperform most internal combustion-powered cars, its Model S is also a rolling tribute to technology. There's only one button inside - for the hazard lights, and only because government rules require it. Everything else is electronic, and the central console is dominated by a massive screen the size of two full-sized iPads stacked one on top of the other.

Tesla regularly sends software updates wirelessly and remotely to its vehicles to introduce new features and fix bugs. Now, hackers can do the same thing. Researchers have uncovered a number of vulnerabilities in the car's architecture that could allow hackers to find the car, then unlock it, They still won't be able to drive it, but simply being able to geolocate the car, then open it up and steal whatever's inside - without actually having to break in - is creepy enough.

Since cars are often repositories of personal data - synced data from your smartphone, passwords to home security systems, etc. - this could also be a new way to launch identity theft attacks or other crimes.

Earlier, hackers demonstrated a way to remotely take over a Smart Car's steering, brakes, windows and headlights, and as cars in general become more heavily loaded with electronics, the risk - and the appeal to criminals - will only grow.

I'll be back on-air next Friday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Point your browser to player.cjad.com if you'd like to tune in.

Musings on a wounded giant

Long way from the garage
Shanghai, China
May 2012
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You don't hear all that much about HP these days. The company also known as Hewlett-Packard is one of Silicon Valley's true innovators, the one that first institutionalized the kind of engineering-driven culture that made technology an everyday part of ordinary people's lives. Yet in recent years, as the market has shifted from traditional PCs to mobile devices, HP has stumbled.

In fairness, the company is hardly alone. Many of its generational equivalents have similarly failed to adapt to the new world order, and have also had to wrestle with tumbling market share, red ink and one tortuous corporate reorg after another. But HP isn't just any company. And my own history with them - lots of coverage as an analyst, and lots of memorable moments along the way - makes me just a little sadder whenever I see a troubling headline.

Because in the end it isn't just a company or a logo. It's people. And this is a company filled with truly good people. And their impact lingers long after the logo itself fades from view.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Time with our Starbucks girl

A brief moment in time
London, ON
March 2014
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I'm somewhat ambivalent on the whole Starbucks thing. Point blank, I think their pricing is ridiculous, as is the overall level of pretension they bring to what was once a simple cup of coffee. I've got to give them credit, though, for building a premium brand around something so basic, and for convincing legions of fans around the world to pay for the privilege of being in their not-so-exclusive club.

Yet here I am, munching on a lemon poppy loaf, and drinking tea with our daughter and my out-of-frame wife (she's just off to the left. Say hi.) What gives?

Well, first of all, the little lady loves Starbucks. So on those fleeting opportunities when we get to put life on pause and spend some quiet time together, this is a great place to do just that. She likes it here, and if she likes it, then we like it, too. Second, there's something to be said for the way these places have become modern meeting places of sorts. Old villages had their town halls, squares and cafes, and the modern urban landscape has Starbucks and Tim Hortons.

The cynics among us might call it cookie-cutter and over-marketed, and to a certain extent they might be right. But if it gets me a quiet few minutes with my two favorite ladies, then I think it's safe to leave the existential discussions for another day. For now, there's togetherness to be had.

Your turn: Your favorite drink...and...go!