Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying goodbye to summer

Reflected not-quite-glory
Grand Bend, ON
September 2013
Thematic. Reflective. Here.
This wasn't the ideal day to come to the beach. It was cold, grey, and windy, and the red-flagged surf threatened to carry foolhardy swimmers out to sea. Or whatever out-to-sea really means when you're beside one of the Great Lakes.

But none of that seemed to matter. Because it was the last full day of summer, and we've always gone to the beach on this day to ease the transition from carefree vacation to structured rest-of-the-year. Days like this are special because they remind us that moments like this are fleeting. We don't get enough of them, and they slip into history all too easily. Some iffy weather wasn't going to keep us away.

So when we were done enjoying the not-so-warm sand, we headed up the main drag of this resort town for one last feel of the place before leaving it behind for another season. It's always bittersweet to say goodbye, but with a little luck from the universe we'll be back there before long.

In the meantime, I wandered around with my camera and tried, apparently vainly, to capture some snippets of the place before we headed back home. I'll try to do a little better on our next visit.

Your turn: When was your last beach day? What was it like?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On stepping outside the worn path

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."
Matsuo Basho
Walking through the rutted paths blazed by others gets old pretty quickly, anyway.

Stop using Internet Explorer. Now.

Hot on the heels of Heartbleed, the web-based vulnerability that generated global headlines and worry earlier this month, we now have our next big technological weakness. This time it's Internet Explorer, the browser that ships with every version of Windows.

Researchers have revealed that IE versions 9, 10 and 11 - which currently runs on 26% of all the PCs in the world - suffers from something called a Zero Day vulnerability. This makes it easy for hackers to launch socially engineered attacks that trick users into visiting fake websites that subsequently infect their machines. Older versions of IE, dating back to version 6, are also at risk.

Following the end-of-support for Windows XP, this is the first major incident where a known weakness in XP (IE ships with all versions of Windows, and is the default browser) will not be patched or fixed by Microsoft. And just like with Heartbleed, we CAN protect ourselves. Here's how:
  • Stop using Internet Explorer. Immediately. Any version of Windows and any version of IE: just stop using the browser.
  • Switch immediately to an alternate browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (both are free downloads and can be installed in well under 5 minutes.)
  • As soon as Microsoft has a fix available for your computer (no ETA yet, but I'm seeing reports that indicate we might have to wait until May 13), download and apply it if you're running Windows Vista, 7 or 8.
  • Download and install Microsoft's Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit 4.1. It isn't the ultimate fix, but it's better than nothing.
  • If you're running XP, download and use an alternative browser, and do NOT use IE again. Ever.
  • In all cases, make sure you're using security software on your computer, and that it is regularly updated.
If you needed another excuse to get off of XP, this is it. And if your version of Windows is newer, it's just as well to start using Chrome and/or Firefox exclusively.

Fun stuff, isn't it?

Related media:
  • Spoke live with CTV News Channel's Jacqueline Milczarek. Video here.
  • Was interviewed for Bryan Bicknell's report on the CTV London 6pm newscast. Video here.
  • Chatted with Mike Stubbs on 1290 CJBK London as part of our weekly tech rundown.
  • Spoke with Charles Adler on 680 CJOB Winnipeg.
  • Talked with Angela Kokott of NewsTalk770 Calgary for our weekly Tech Tuesday segment.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Thematic Photographic 292 - Reflective

Reach for the sky
London, ON
December 2013
I've selected this week's Thematic theme, reflective, because I was flipping through my recent archives and realized I had a ton of window, mirror and similar reflective pics. It's funny how that happens, because I didn't consciously set out to shoot reflective scenes, yet for some reason I ended up with a surplus of them.

Is this the universe trying to tell me something? Perhaps.

Whatever the reason, we'll be shooting into glass and other reflective scenes for the next week. Are you up for it?

Your turn: Shoot a reflective shot - as always, how you choose to interpret the theme is entirely up to you. Post it to your blog or website (or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram stream, or anywhere else, for that matter) and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Pop over to other participants to share the photographic joy, and feel free to drag in a friend or ten, because photography is always better when there's more of it. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Otherwise, I'll leave the rest to your optical brilliance. Have fun with this one, gang.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The sun shows its face

I'm very much a creature of habit. I crave even the most seemingly trivial rituals because they give order to things that seemingly have no order, and ground me when all hell is breaking loose.

To wit: When I have an interview, the drive to and from the studio is an integral part of the process.

On the way there, it's all about getting my head into the game. By the time I get in the car, I've already reviewed my notes and research materials six ways from Sunday. My laptop is packed in my backpack, loaded with notes that I almost never need to use in-studio, but still tote along because it makes me feel a little better just to have them with me.

As I back out of the driveway, I pick the right tunes and begin to methodically drill myself on potential questions. I spend the entire drive thinking through the interview, anticipating angles and talking myself through potential responses. I scenario-play the discussion to get a feel for it. If it's a particularly unique interview or show, I'll often mentally snapshot scenes along the way, almost as if I'm recording the moment, just because.

Door-to-door, it's just under 10 km, and it takes, on a bad day, about 15 minutes to get there. By the time I get to the parking lot, I feel as if my brain has already patterned the discussion, and all that's left is to flip on the red light and let it rip.

The way home is all about decompression. Weather permitting, I slide the sunroof open and slowly cruise down from the hilltop studio. I play back the interview in my mind for the first couple of blocks, almost judging myself in the process. On good days, I almost feel like I'm floating, as it's hard to believe I get to do this, at this level.

Once I've boxed the hit up, I turn the tunes up and and enjoy the rest of the ride home. It's a rare snippet of alone time, a moment to reflect before I get back to the home office and have to get back on the keyboard and the phone.

Why am I bothering to share any of this? Because I had an interview on Saturday night that went particularly well. The discussion flowed easily, and the anchor managed to make it both light-hearted and detail-filled - the kind of interview that sets the bar for everything else. The late evening sky was grey, so I left the sunglasses in their holder and hit the road.

As I reached the halfway point home, I noticed an incredibly bright spot in the sky to my left. The sun had emerged from the grey in a tiny sliver of cloudless sky just above the horizon and, in the few seconds remaining before it sank out of sight for good, had become a massive, deep orange ball.

I couldn't get a picture because I was still driving, so the only photo I got was the one that burned itself into my brain. But as I squinted in the few seconds before it sank out of sight, I smiled at the serendipitous timing that put me right there, right then.

It wasn't part of my normal post-interview ritual, but I'll take it all the same.

Getting metaphysical in the fruit aisle

Don't mess with Mother Nature
London, ON
December 2013
Thematic. Chaotic. Here.
After a long hiatus, I'm apparently back to terrorizing grocery stores. As part of my exhaustive review of the BlackBerry Z30, I of course had to make sure its camera passed muster. And what better way to do that than a trip through the fruit bins of the local big box food store?

The amazing thing about stuff grown from nature is how it mixes the random with the ordered. The texture alone seems to offer nothing even approaching order. But the longer you stand there and ponder the metaphysical "why" of a simple fruit, you begin to realize it's anything but chaotic. Billions of years of evolution ensured this particular fruit would grow in this particular way. When you zoom the lens way back, what initially seemed chaotic is, indeed, rather orderly.

Or so I like to remind myself when I get home and tuck into this rather delicious example of nature's chaotic-yet-orderly perfection. I guess I'm just weird that way.

Your turn: Your favourite fruit is...?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

#TechSeven - Facebank, iPad fades & Netflix pricing

My weekly Friday afternoon tech talk with Barry Morgan on Montreal's CJAD 800 radio station this week was chock full of geeky goodness. In case you missed it, here's a rundown of the major topics we talked about:

ONE - Facebook wants to be your bank

Would you trust Facebook to be your online bank? You may soon have the opportunity to find out first-hand.

A Financial Times article (additional link here) quotes unnamed sources as saying Facebook is asking Ireland's central bank for permission to launch an electronic wallet that would allow users across Europe to store and exchange money online.

If this gets the go-ahead, it would signify an important milestone in social media's evolution from means-of-sharing-trivial-snippets to a full-blown online utility that's indispensable to everyday life. At the same time, I think this begs a couple of fundamental questions: why would Facebook be doing this in the first place, and should we trust it to be the online platform of choice for our most critical financial transactions?

To the first question, why? 1.2 billion reasons, really. Fully 1 in 6 people on the planet now use Facebook. And if Facebook can upgrade them from status updates to full-on financial transactions, it stands to make a lot of money in the process. This is especially critical now that Facebook is a publicly traded company, with investors who care about growth and profit.

And the pot at the end of the rainbow is a big one indeed. According to Gartner, mobile transactions will grow 35% per year between 2012 and 2017, and the market will hit 450 million users and $721 billion by 2017. Here's some good background on what's driving Facebook's moves here.

Traditional banks, understandably, want a piece of this, and have dipped their toes in the online transaction waters. Canadian banks including RBC and CIBC have all partnered with carriers like Rogers and Bell to launch mobile payment programs - but they haven't fully gone mainstream yet, and most Canadians still haven't broken their addiction to traditional means of payment, namely credit and debit cards, and cash. Facebook's massive size (27 million users in Canada alone, far more than any one bank or carrier) means it could hit critical mass far more quickly.

The move comes as Google adds a payment option to its Gmail service - additional background here - for its half-billion users, and Apple makes moves to include mobile payments in its next major update to its iOS mobile operating system. The battle lines are being drawn.

And then there's the second question around trust, security and privacy. We've already seen a number of high-profile hackings of e-mail and social media services. Our propensity to store all our most confidential data in our inbox and social media accounts doesn't help matters. Facebook also has a somewhat checkered reputation on the privacy/data stewardship front, so any moves to become the e-wallet provider of choice will have to be accompanied by significant assurances that they've learned to treat our data with care.

I wrote about the perils two years ago in an article for Yahoo Canada - Mobile wallets hold promise and peril- and those worries remain as valid today as they were then. Facebook Canada, in particular, has been especially vocal about the global company's moves to become a trusted partner, and will figure centrally as the company further fleshes out its m-commerce, e-wallet plans.

TWO - Is it game over for Apple's iPad?

Apple announced its latest quarterly results, and to no one's surprise it raked in record revenues and profits. A stock split - designed to make shares more affordable for regular folks - and a boost in the dividend sent shares soaring.

That's the good news. The bad news: iPad sales are DOWN for the first time since the iconic tablet was first introduced in 2010. In the year-ago quarter, the company sold 19.4 million iPads. This last quarter? 16.35 million. That's down almost 16 per cent.

I wrote an article for Yahoo Canada: Fading iPad sales mark the end of Apple’s big bang era

CEO Tim Cook tried to explain the drop, saying variations in the supply chain, and a big backlog of iPad minis after the holiday season rush, contributed to the wonky numbers. But in the end, weakness in a flagship product is worrying for the company's longer-term prospects. Could your next tablet be an Android-powered device instead?

My thesis: Folks who have iPads tend to really like them - and don't see much need to replace them every year or two. Also, everyone's waiting for the Next Big Thing from Apple. It could be either a watch, a TV, a fitness device, something for the car, etc. And when it launches, they expect it to end Apple's long-ish period since its last major new category-creating product (the iPad) and power its next major chapter of growth.

Unfortunately, relying on the tech equivalent of a hit record is so last decade. Going forward, Apple's best prospects lie in larger numbers of smaller products, all of which somehow connect to its current iPhone (and by extension iPad) franchise. Software will allow the company to truly differentiate itself from its competitors, and it's only a matter of time before Apple-enabled cars make it a no-brainer for drivers to buy Apple devices, too, so that they can get the most out of them.

So if you really like iPads, buy one now before they're radically redesigned in an attempt to get us to want to upgrade. And if you were planning on camping out for a week later this year to buy the first on your block to have an iWatch, you may want to cancel those plans. The future Apple just won't work that way anymore.

THREE - Game Boy turns 25

We had a big anniversary in tech this week, as Nintendo's iconic portable game machine, the Game Boy, celebrated its 25th birthday. When it was released on April 21, 1989, no one knew it would go on to sell 118 million copies - and another 501 million game cartridges - and revolutionize the world of portable gaming.

No one also suspected it would legitimize the idea of portable electronics. The Game Boy wasn't the first portable gaming system, but it was the most well thought-out, with great performance (for its time), great battery life, and the kind of toughness that today's smartphone buyers wish they had. Indeed, much of today's smartphone revolution wouldn't have been possible if not for this single breakthrough product.

It also turned a strange little game from a Russian developer, Tetris, into a worldwide phenomenon, arguably the first virally popular mobile game. Tetris shipped in the box with the Game Boy, and it legitimized the practice of launching a device or platform with strong software - the killer app, if you will. Today, we may look back at the Game Boy's primitive technology and laugh, but there's no denying how important this one product was to establishing many of the fundamentals of today's mobile economy.

FOUR - And YouTube turns 9

Still with the anniversaries, nine years ago this week (April 23, 2005), some then-unknown guy named Jawed Karim uploaded an 18-second video to a then-unknown website called YouTube. At the time, Twitter hadn't yet been invented, Facebook was still a largely unknown service for students only, and MySpace was the only social media game in town. was actually registered on Valentine's Day 2005, and went live to the public a month after the first video was posted.

And what was in this video for the ages? A trip to the San Diego zoo to visit the elephants. His take?: "The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long trunks."

Since then, of course, Jawed, who co-founded YouTube, sold the service to Google for $1.65 billion. So I'm guessing he can buy the entire zoo if he wishes.

His little video literally started the viral video revolution. Yet as viral videos go, this one did well, but it isn't YouTube's top video, not by a long shot. It's had 14 million views, 130,000 likes, and 7,000 dislikes.

But without it, we would have never had Gangnam Style.

FIVE - Netflix prices could be going up

It's probably the best entertainment value in the universe. 8 bucks a month, all you can watch, any device, anywhere. Movies, TV shows, documentaries, anything: as long as you have the bandwidth, Netflix has stuff for you to watch. It's the single most successful online streaming service, the Kleenex or Coke of the digital content age, and the one that kickstarted the chord cutting revolution. Because of Netflix, more and more of us are getting rid of conventional cable and satellite subscriptions entirely so we can watch content on the cheap online.

Well, that screaming deal may not be so screaming anymore. Netflix has given its biggest hint yet that it could be getting set to raise prices by a buck or two a month. In a letter to shareholders, CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells all but confirmed they're about to raise prices:
“In the U.S. we have greatly improved our content selection since we introduced our streaming plan in 2010 at $7.99 per month. Our current view is to do a one or two dollar increase, depending on the country, later this quarter for new members only. Existing members would stay at current pricing (e.g. $7.99 in the U.S.) for a generous time period. These changes will enable us to acquire more content and deliver an even better streaming experience.”
Even at $10 a month, though, it's hard to find a better deal anywhere. Still worth every penny. And if the extra revenue lets them buy more and better content - and continue to produce groundbreaking new shows like House of Cards - then it's a price more of us will likely be willing to pay.

SIX - Charge your a TAXI?

We've all been there: you're heading out for a night on the town and you realize you forgot to charge your phone. If you're taking a taxi in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, the solution soon might be as simple as plugging in.

Telus is partnering with Play Taxi Media and certain taxi companies in each city (Ambassador Taxis in Toronto, Taxi Union in Montreal, Mayfair Taxi in Calgary and Blacktop & Checker Cabs in Vancouver) to install charging stations in about 1,000 taxicabs. The plug-in stations are free to use - well, aside from your taxi fare - and are accompanied by a screen in the headrest that plays ads and other content.

The partnership plans to expand the program to other taxi companies and cities, as well.

The stations can recharge a tablet, as well, but I don't want to imagine how long you'd have to drive around to fully top off an iPad Air. That would be one expensive cab ride.

SEVEN - Glow-in-the-dark roads

It's a common problem, especially in Canada, with its long stretches of highway between distant cities: how do you maximize visibility for motorists and keep them safely between the lines? The Dutch may have a simple answer: glow-in-the-dark road paint.

They're using a 500-meter stretch of the N329 highway in Oss to see if it works. They've added photo-luminescent powder to the road paint. It charges up during the day, then glows once the sun goes down. In its current form, it'll glow for up to 8 hours - not quite all night long, but better than the barely-visible lines that we're stuck with today.

Future versions of the technology could add other capabilities - like notifications when the surface is about to ice up or that hazards may be ahead. It could also allow direct-to-vehicle communication. Smart cars. Smart roads. Now smart paint. Neat.

We'll be back on the air next Friday at 2 p.m. with a whole new set of craziness from the world of tech. If you're in Montreal, tune in at 800 on the AM dial. Online, point your browser to for the live stream.

On learning to live...differently

"You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly - that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."
Anne Lamott
Hardly a day goes by that I don't have one of those moments where something triggers a thought of what once was, of what we've lost. Indeed, who we've lost. The triggers can be anything - something someone says, a scent, a song, a feeling of less-than-full-balance, whatever - and they often hit you when you least expect it.

And yet again I'm reminded that we don't so much recover from trauma as much as we learn the new way of living after the fact. Maybe it's a good thing to have those reminders remain with us. Keeps us human. Reminds us why we still need to be thankful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Revisiting the Help Desk Rules

Lately, I've been noticing an uptick in the number of spontaneous requests I receive for technology guidance. Because I do a lot of work in media, I'm guessing folks feel comfortable reaching out and asking for my help whenever their tech isn't working, or when it's time to buy something new.

I'm perfectly OK with this, of course, and I'm generally happy to help because I was raised to be polite and to do the right thing to the best of my ability and circumstance. I also don't want folks to think I'm standoffish, so I do my best to respond whenever I'm asked.

But I'm noticing a disturbing trend: no one says thank you. And increasingly, they don't even acknowledge that I've answered them. In fact, for the entire month of April - which I've spent buried under a ton of work and life stuff - of all the strangers who have asked me for help, I heard back from exactly one person. As far as everyone else is concerned, they got what they needed, then promptly moved on. Nice.

It bugs me, because even if my response is a short email, tweet or Facebook posting, it takes time and energy away from whatever else I was doing at the time. Time and energy I increasingly cannot spare on unappreciative strangers.

The logical, rational response would be for me to simply ignore everyone. But that might be perceived as rude. At the same time, I'm getting pretty tired of having my time wasted by strangers who can't be bothered to even let me know that they got an answer from me.

To them, I'd like to politely suggest a re-read of my Help Desk Rules. I first published them way back in 2011, and on further reflection they seem to be as applicable now as they were then.

To everyone else: I think I'm off the free-help-for-everyone gravy train for a while. Friends and family know I'll always be here for them, but folks who ping me out of the blue just aren't worth the effort anymore. I've got better things to do with my time.

Your turn: What would you do if you were in my shoes? Ignore everybody? Continue to help? Something in between?

Rolling out, rolling on

A short pause in the journey
Middlesex County, ON
April 2014
I had been waiting a while for a day like this. Sunny, warm, relatively light long weekend traffic, and just enough openness on the schedule to allow some time for a leisurely cruise through the agriculture-dominated townships that encircle London and offer up a ready-made escape from the noise and chaos that typically define life here.

I hadn't been on the bike in a very long while - a story that I'll get into when the time is right - so I was understandably nervous as I cleaned everything off, pumped up the tires and ensured all the parts were working as they should. It felt a little alien to be handling my machine again, almost as if I had lost my muscle memory over the long winter, or forgotten what "normal" felt like. Still, deep down I knew this was what I should be doing. It was time.

I've had this bike forever. I'm not much of a "stuff" person, but outside of my camera equipment, this is as close as I'll get to having a beloved "thing" as I'll ever get. It's a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp that I've hybridized with slicks and other commuter-ish add-ons. It's taken me, nearly silently, to places I simply would never have seen otherwise. It's kept me in shape, focused my mind when I've needed focus, and calmed me when I've needed a momentary break from the world.

And yet I had let it gather dust for far too long. Life got in the way. And today was the day to get rid of the dust and tell life to stuff it.

So as buttoned everything up, filled up the water bottles and pushed off from in front of our driveway and circled the cul-de-sac a couple of times to get my bearings, it took a few seconds until that sense of balance returned to erase any lingering doubts I might have had. Already I knew: I could still do this.

I turned toward the main road, spun my legs up and felt the wind rustle past my ears as I slowly gathered momentum and settled into an easy cadence. Where I was headed was less important than the fact that I had made it to this point at all.

More to come...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

iPad sales drop. Planetary spin affected.

Apple reported its quarterly earnings yesterday, and to no one's surprise the company raked in record revenues and profits. A stock split - designed to make shares more affordable for regular folks - and a boost in the dividend sent shares soaring.

That's the good news.

The bad news: iPad sales are down for the first time since the iconic tablet was first introduced in 2010. In the year-ago quarter, the company sold 19.4 million iPads. This last quarter? 16.35 million. That's a drop of almost 16 per cent.

I wrote an article for Yahoo Canada: Fading iPad sales mark the end of Apple’s big bang era

CEO Tim Cook tried to explain the drop, saying variations in the supply chain, and a big backlog of iPad minis after the holiday season rush, contributed to the wonky numbers. But in the end, weakness in a flagship product is worrying for the company's longer-term prospects. Could your next tablet be an Android-powered device instead?

My thesis: Everyone's waiting for the Next Big Thing from Apple. It could be either a watch, a TV, a fitness device, a dog translator, etc. And when it launches, they expect it to end Apple's long-ish period since its last major new category-creating product (the iPad) and power its next major chapter of growth.

Unfortunately, relying on the tech equivalent of a hit record is so last decade. Going forward, Apple's best prospects lie in larger numbers of smaller products, all of which somehow connect to its current iPhone (and by extension iPad) franchise. When all smartphones look like sleek slabs of metal and glass, software becomes the only way for the company to truly differentiate itself from its competitors. We're getting a glimpse of this with the recently announced CarPlay in-dash technology. It's only a matter of time before Apple-enabled cars make it a no-brainer for drivers to buy Apple devices, too, so that they can get the most out of them.

So if you covet one of the latest iPads, buy now before they're radically redesigned. And if you were planning on camping out for a week later this year to be the first on your block to have an iWatch, you may want to cancel those plans. The future Apple just won't work that way anymore.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On getting one more day

"Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back." 
Mitch Albom, For One More Day
Mr. Albom is, without exception, one of the finest writers on the planet today. If you haven't read his work, which includes the seminal Tuesdays with Morrie, you've been missing out.

This passage begs one obvious question: Do you have a day you wish you could get back?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

No traffic. Yet.

Clear roads ahead?
Shanghai, China
May 2012
For more chaotic Thematic, head here
I grew up in Montreal, so I learned to drive on pothole-infested roads crawling with some of the world's most aggressive drivers. It should have prepared me for pretty much anything, yet one look at the zoo that is Shanghai traffic and I was just as glad to not be at the wheel.

I guess there are different forms of "aggressive" in different parts of the world, and from the looks of it, I really didn't want to tangle with the roads here.

So I did the next best thing and shot out the window as we made our way into town from the airport. This is not an overcast day, by the way. It's smog. And I'm guessing I breathed in a lifetime's worth of pollutants in the short time I was there. Yum!

FWIW, the green-lit sign here was a lie: traffic stopped dead not three minutes after we passed this sign. I'm guessing it's some kind of government policy to keep people happy, even if it has no remote connection to reality.

In that regard, it sounds shockingly like the mean streets of Montreal. Maybe we're more alike, after all.

Your turn: Your worst-ever traffic story is/was...?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thematic Photographic 291 - Chaotic

Nature's Randomness
Drumbo, ON
June 2013
This week's Thematic theme, chaotic, is designed to recognize the unpredictable nature of the world around us. Maybe it's just me, but things on this planet seem to be accelerating, often in every different direction, and simply keeping track of it all can be a challenge.

And so it goes photographically. Which is why I hope we can capture some chaotic moments over the next week. Who's in.

Your turn: Shoot a chaotic shot and share it on your blog, website or social media presence. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic love, and feel free to pop by through the week if you've got anything new to add - we encourage serial photography around here. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#TechSeven - Heartbleed, US Airways porn, & Privacy

This week's tech talk on CJAD Montreal on Friday afternoon capped a rather disturbing week in the technology space. I chatted with Anne Lagace Dowson about a bunch of stuff, and if you weren't able to tune in, here's what you missed:

Heartbleed - the never-ending story

You'd think this story, after raging for the past couple of weeks, would be all played out. Think again: every day this week seemed to bring a new twist to this one. The RCMP Wednesday announced an arrest in the case - I wrote about it for Yahoo Canada - Heartbleed fallout could drive fundamental change - and Anne and I talked about hacker culture, and how it isn't necessarily about busting into systems to score a big, criminal payday. In many cases, it's about street cred, and proving to your hacker peers that you have the technical chops to pull off the toughest exploits.

We also spoke about future job prospects for hackers who get caught. Bizarrely, being arrested is the hacker equivalent of becoming a rock star. Don't be surprised if lucrative job prospects lie in the suspected CRA hacker's future. We live in a strange, strange world, indeed.

US Airways sends a pornographic tweet

There's no end to examples of major brands misusing social media tools and finding themselves in the middle of an online firestorm as a result.

It all started off so innocently. On Monday afternoon, a disgruntled customer took to Twitter to express discontent, tweeting: "You ruined my spring break, I want some free stuff." The airline responded with, let's not mince words, porn. The tweet from US Airways included a photo that is, ah, not even remotely acceptable. Of course, it went absolutely viral within minutes, and spawned a just-as-funny bunch of funny responses. The company, of course, apologized and said it was investigating. This was, of course, too late, as it always is.

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.

The lesson: Social media can quickly and efficiently turn a small chunk of data into an immediate viral sensation. It can also ruin a career and damage a brand with one finger on a touchscreen or click of a mouse. Companies that forget these basic truths - by ignoring social media's power and engaging employees or agencies that play fast with the rules and the tools - risk getting burned.

Canadians love their iPads - now more than ever

Survey results released this week by the Media Technology Monitor suggest tabloid ownership in Canada is skyrocketing - and most of us are buying Apple iPads.

Over 42% of Canadians surveyed between October and December of 2013 said they now own a tablet. This compares to only 10% in 2011 and 25% in 2012. The 2013 ownership numbers suggest tablet take rates are spiking: up 66% alone over the previous year.

Most of us seem to like Apple: 2 out of every 3 tablets sold are iPads, a number that continues to increase every year. Samsung's Galaxy Tab devices and - this one freaked me a bit because it's no longer supported by the company - BlackBerry PlayBooks each had 10% market share in 2013.

Interestingly, we're using our tablets less often than we used to. in 2011, 46% said they used their tablets several times a day. By last year, that had dropped to 38% - especially among Samsung and PlayBook users. Apple iPad owners appear as addicted as ever, though, with use-every-day stats consistently higher than those reported for any other device type.

For what it's worth, Canada, my birthday is in May, and I like the iPad Air :)

Google makes it official: It's reading your email

I've said it before: there is no privacy online. Anything you do when you connect to the Internet can and will be seen by your service provider and in all likelihood used to serve up ever more invasive ads. Google has raised this process to a high art, scanning your online activities with sophisticated software to get a better sense of your interests, then using that insight to serve up relevant, targeted ads. It means if you just brought your first child home from the hospital, you'll see ads for diapers and not Depends. Or funeral packages.

But this kind of creeps people out, and privacy advocates have taken issue with the secrecy with which most online companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have operated. No more. Google has just updated its Terms of Service document - the thing that's billions of words of legalese, that we never bother reading because we're too focused on finishing up the registration process so we can start using the service - to make it plainly explicit what it's up to, and why.

Here's what it now reads: “Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored."

Before this update, Google said it might “pre-screen” content, but only implied that it was to filter spam or other questionable content, and not to serve up targeted ads. The new Terms of Service clarifies the company's intentions, and comes as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other web services companies find themselves being sued by users concerned over their privacy policies.

It doesn't change the fact that Google's software knows more about us than our own mothers. And it doesn't make the Internet any more private or secure. But a little in-your-face honesty probably isn't a bad thing.

Twitter has become the Internet's temperature gauge. Want to know what your peeps are thinking Right Now? Or an almost-live update from the hockey game? Twitter is your first choice. The service is now closing in on a billion total users - 974 million - with 241 million of them known as "monthly active users". And those numbers continue to grow.

The problem: According to Twopcharts, fully 44% of all Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet. The data suggests even those who HAVE sent tweets aren't exactly burning up their Twitter thumbs: 30% of existing Twitter accounts have sent between 1 and 10 tweets, and only 13% of accounts have sent 100 or more tweets.

Of course, you CAN simply log in and read other people's tweets. But for a service built on making advertising dollars off of new tweets, retweets and favourites, the service needs to find new ways to pull us deeper into its world.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Streaking through the night-time sky

Almost close enough to touch
Way over London, ON
April 2014
Life is full of simple pleasures. Like when the Heavens Above website tells you that tonight's International Space Station overflight will put on an especially bright show (-3.0 mag in London) for anyone who takes the time to head outside and look up. So you grab your camera and tripod, rustle the kids and wander across the street to the dark spot under the trees that's just right for spotting and shooting.

In the 10 or so minutes before the dot first appears high overhead, they ask endless questions about what they're seeing overhead. Planets? Stars? Why do they twinkle? How far away are they? Are there any other satellites up there that we should be looking for? How will we know we're seeing it when we see it?

We discuss the observational differences between airplanes and satellites, and the optical mess known as the atmosphere. We talk about how big the station is, who lives on it, and why we still wave despite the fact that they can't see us so far below. I listen to their chatter, and realize they know infinitely more at their age than I knew way back when.

Finally they spot the moving dot low on the horizon as it emerges from a stand of trees. It brightens as it silently climbs toward us. The Dragon capsule, which launched from Cape Canaveral yesterday on top of a Falcon 9 (SpaceX page, wiki) rocket and is scheduled for rendez-vous tomorrow at 7:14 a.m. ET, isn't visible here. But we still know it's there, chasing the station through the inky blackness, and we make plans to gather around the laptop in the morning to watch the capture and docking.

I shoot as many 15-second exposures as I possibly can. Not because a smudge of light on a dark background makes for a particularly compelling photo. But because I want them to be able to look at the picture someday and feel what it was like to be outside on this night. Because photos make it easier to relive moments you don't want to forget.

In the overall scheme of things, I realize it's a moment that doesn't necessarily shake the earth. We gathered on a dark sidewalk on a cold, clear night and stared up at a moving white spot of light in the sky for a few fleeting minutes before it flew into the planet's shadow and winked out. But I'd like to think our kids somehow added to their growing list of life experiences. No matter how small they may be, when they all get added up someday, I hope they find them meaningful. And I hope their future is filled many more moments on sidewalks.

Your turn: Got a small memory from your own childhood?

On the need for chaos

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."
Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, that explains a whole lot.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chew on this...

Snack time
London, ON
April 2014
Thematic. Hungry. Here.
The puffy confections you see here are known as Forgotten Kisses. My late mother-in-law taught my wife to make these, and that's what she called them. So the name stuck.

I can't quite explain what they taste like beyond light and airy, with little bits of chocolate in 'em. Nutritious? Not even close. But as a rare treat from my wife's kitchen, they're a reminder that foods that have, ah, less than ideal nutritional makeup can be just as healthy for you as anything you'd get in the fruit-and-vegetable aisle.

Because the soul needs nourishing, too. And who better to make it happen than your mom?

Your turn: What was the most special dish from your childhood?

On darkness, light, and loss

"It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone."
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
I can't imagine what it must be like to have never begin with. I'm okay with the losing-it part, largely because we essentially have no choice. But that doesn't mean I'll ever get used to it.

This life thing isn't so easy, after all.

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.


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.


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...

  • 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.

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?


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
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

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

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 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 if you'd like to tune in.