29 June 2012

Cloud week - part 3: Security on the cloud

Is the cloud safe?

For individual applications on the Cloud, the biggest risk is with the level of access you are giving the apps you use.  The best example here are the Facebook apps you’ve probably been invited to use by friends.  If you’ve ever read the details of what access you are giving these apps, you might think twice before installing some of them.  You’re giving the app permission to access your name, profile pictures, username, user ID (account number), networks, your friend list, gender, age range, and locale, and any other information you’ve made public on Facebook. 

Another example is with Google.  While your Google Account is very secure, using the Google Apps Marketplace for add-ons created by third-party vendors, could give access to log-on information, or allow the app access to the data in your Google account such as your email, calendar, and Google Docs. 

If you really want to use an app and want to get a better idea of how safe your information will be you can search the app vendor’s website to determine who they are and what security measures are in place - look for logos showing security certification for the app. 
Cloud storage providers take the security of your information very seriously and have top security measures in place to protect your data.  They use file encryption, which means your data is scrambled up and not easy to read; and your data is usually stored in multiple data centres, which means that if something happens to one location, your data is still safe on at least one other server in a separate location.  However, the most important thing protecting your data is having a very strong password – and that’s up to you.  

Even with these security measures, you need to be aware that they can never be 100% safe.  There have been cases where big cloud storage companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Dropbox have experienced outages and security problems, although they have been quickly detected and fixed. Even though your files are protected by encryption and passwords, there is the small chance that hackers could break the codes and access your data.

What can you do to maximise the security of your data in the cloud?

Your password 

Choose a password that’s difficult to hack, and change your password regularly. 

·    Use at least eight characters, the more characters the better really, but most people will find anything more than about 15 characters difficult to remember.
·    Use a random mixture of characters, upper and lower case, numbers, punctuation, spaces and symbols.
·    Don't use a word found in a dictionary, English or foreign.
·    Never use the same password twice.

Things to avoid


·    Don't just add a single digit or symbol before or after a word. e.g. "apple1"
·    Don't double up a single word. e.g. "appleapple"
·    Don't simply reverse a word. e.g. "elppa"
·    Don't just remove the vowels. e.g. "ppl"
·    Key sequences that can easily be repeated. e.g. "qwerty","asdf" etc.
·    Don't just garble letters, e.g. converting e to 3, L or i to 1, o to 0. as in "z3r0-10v3"

Bad Passwords


·    Don't use passwords based on personal information such as: your name, nickname, birthdate, spouse’s name, pet's name, friends name, suburb, phone number, car registration number, address etc. This includes using just part of your name, or part of your birthdate.
·    Don't use passwords based on things located near you.  Passwords such as "computer", "monitor", "keyboard", "telephone", "printer", etc. are useless.
·    Don't ever be tempted to use one of those common passwords that are easy to remember but offer no security at all. e.g. "password", "letmein".
·    Never use a password based on your username, account name, computer name or email address.

     Good password tips

·    Use the first letter of each word from a line of a song or poem.
·    Alternate between one consonant and one or two vowels to produce nonsense words. eg. "taupouti".
·    Choose two short words and concatenate them together with a punctuation or symbol character between the words. eg. "seat%tree"


Secure Site

If your cloud storage works through a web app, ie. you go to its website and log-on to access your files, look for "https" instead of "http" in front of the URL in your browser's address bar. That extra "s" indicates the form is using secure HTTP.

If you are thinking about using the cloud for storing your business files, there’s a lot to consider before you make that decision, and then there’s the decision of who is the best cloud provider for your company.  

However, if it’s for personal storage and backing up of your own photos, music and files; or if you’ve ever needed to access what’s on your computer when you’re not near your computer; the Cloud is definitely the way to go - an easy way to store your data, free up your computer’s memory, share your files with those you want them shared with, and the ability to access it anywhere, at any time, on any device.

27 June 2012

The most fun you can ever have with your photos!

This post has just taken longer to create than any other – ever!  All because of what I’m posting about – my whole family has just spent over an hour laughing at this – and my boys had to have turns at it too. 

What am I talking about?  Just the most fun photo effects site you could ever find…  Photofunia

Most photo editing programs and sites allow you to add filters and effects to your photos.  But if you really want to have some fun with your photos you have to see Photofunia.  Choose your profile photo and have some fun:  turn your photo into an art gallery painting, an Andy Warhol artwork, become a tattoo on someone’s arm, a giant photo of you on the side of a building, inserted into a beautiful antique frame, or your head on a celebrity's body.  It’s great fun and really easy to use.

Just make sure you’ve got a nice clear portrait as Photofunia automatically detects the facial features to add to the background.

Turn your children into a Jedi, Iron Man, Superman, or add them to a Harry Potter wanted poster.  Put their faces on stamps, coins, newspapers, Christmas tree decorations, magazine covers, or the side of a car. 

Once you’ve created pictures you’re happy with you can save them to your computer and do with them whatever you like – email them, print them, use your photo editor to add text to them, once they're saved to your computer they are treated the same as any other photo.  They would be great for childrens’ party invitations, Christmas cards, anything.

There are hundreds of different effects – some animated ones too.  If you’re looking for something to keep your kids happy for an hour, or more, on a rainy day – set up a folder on the computer of profile pics of your family or their friends, and let them go wild with this site.   I guarantee lots of laughs!

26 June 2012

Cloud week - part 2: Cloud Storage

The concept of cloud storage just means that you can upload files (documents, photos, videos, music) from your computer to a location on the internet and then access them from any internet-connected computer, some tablets and smartphones. 

Cloud storage is perfect for anyone who needs access to their files when they’re away from their computer.  You upload your files to the cloud, and then all you need is a device with an internet connection, and you have access to all your files.  One of the main features of cloud storage is the ability to sync any changes you make while connected to the cloud with your files back on your own computer.  Great if you travel a lot – no laptop to carry, you can access your files on any tablet, phone or computer that’s connected to the internet.

There are quite a few Cloud Storage providers, these are some of the most popular:

Most cloud storage providers offer a certain amount of free storage and the ability to pay for more if you need it. 


  •  Free — 2GB.  You can earn 500MB of space if you refer friends and gain up to 18 GB worth of free space.
  • Premium plans start at $9.99/month for 20GB
  • Available for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Dropbox is one of the most popular, and easiest to use, cloud storage and file sharing services available. 

Dropbox integrates into Windows Explorer, creating a Dropbox folder that just looks like another folder on your computer.  It automatically syncs files in that folder with your cloud storage, so any file you copy to your PC’s Dropbox folder gets immediately uploaded to your online account. 

Google Drive

  • Free storage — 5 GB
  • Premium plans start at $2.49/month for 25 GB
  • Available for Windows PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Google is the newest cloud storage provider, and it’s not yet available to all Google accounts. 

Google has the advantage of being able to integrate Google Drive with many of its other services.  For example, Google+ users will be able to post photos directly from Drive, Google Play Music keeps track of what music you download to your Android phone and saves a copy of all the tracks and playlists in the cloud for you listen to from other devices.  Instant Upload for Android sends any photo or video taken with a smartphone to a private album in a Google+ account.  If you use Google calendar, any changes made on your desktop are instantly synced to your phone. You’ll also be able to collaborate with others in real time on any Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. 

Microsoft SkyDrive

  • Free storage — 7GB (if you signed up to Windows Live before 22 April 2012 you can currently opt-in for 25GB work of free storage)
  • Premium — Additional 20 GB available starting at $10/year
  • Available for Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, Windows phone
Skydrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage service, part of its Windows Live range of online services. 

If you primarily use Microsoft Office software, SkyDrive is the Cloud Storage option for you.  As well as uploading your files from your computer for storing, you can also create and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and OneNote Notebooks within the SkyDrive site, which are then synchronised with the files on your computer when you save the document using Windows Live Mesh.   Files can be kept private or shared with friends or family.  SkyDrive will become even better with Windows 8, being released later this year.

Apple iCloud

  • Free storage - 5GB.  However, not all data counts towards this amount (eg. iTunes files that are downloaded from the iTunes store are not counted)
  • Additional storage available starting at $10/month for 10GB
  • Available for iOS 5, Mac OS X (Lion), Windows Vista (Service Pack 2) and Windows 7.  All new Apple devices are already synced for iCloud.  If you don’t have iOS 5, as long as your device is capable of running it, the update is free through iTunes.  When you download iOS 5 you’ll be asked to opt-in to iCloud. 

iCloud isn’t just for your Apple devices (iPhones, iPads and iPod touches), it’s also available for Windows, which means that if you have an assortment of Apple devices and a Windows computer they can now all talk to each other.

iCloud stores your e-mail, contacts, and calendars and gives you instant access to your latest music, movies, apps, photos and more. You never have to download or upload anything and iCloud handles all the behind-the-scenes file management.  

Instead of logging on to iTunes to sync your music on each device, it’s already done for you. The same with movies, TV shows, books from the iBookstore, apps and anything else you buy – or have previously bought – from iTunes.   How about taking a photo on your iPhone, then viewing it on your iPad or desktop computer just seconds later?  You can also sync documents using the iWork apps, including Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.  Any document you create or edit is automatically available on your Mac and/or iPad 2 as soon as you log on to iCloud.

Want to try it out?   If you’ve got a Google or Gmail account you can experience Google’s cloud-based storage right now. Simply log in to your Gmail or Google account, and click the ‘Documents’ tab at the top. You’ll be taken to Google Docs, which is an online suite that lets you create word documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. It’s free and you can store as many documents as you like. Your work is automatically saved as you go, and because it’s online, you can access your documents from any computer with an internet connection. Your documents are safe because you need your username and password to access them.

You can even work on a document with multiple people. Just give them access to your file (share), and then you can all collaborate on the same document at once and see the changes live. Don’t worry, if someone makes a change you’re not happy with, Google Docs keeps regular backups of each version, so it’s easy to revert to an earlier version.

25 June 2012

What is 'The Cloud'

You’ve probably heard it mentioned over the last few years, but have you nodded knowingly and really thought, what is ‘the Cloud’?

You may not know what it is, but you’re probably already using it – Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, web-based email services like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo, photo sharing sites like Snapfish, all store information in the ‘cloud’. 

The cloud simply refers to lots of large computers (servers) all over the world where you can store data that you would have stored only on your computer in the past.  It’s a virtual place on the internet where different types of data can be stored and then accessed by different devices, like computers, tablets and smartphones. 

If you use any application that you have access to (usually by login & password) on multiple devices and that is able to sync between them (keeps them all updated with changes regardless of which device you made the change on) then you are using cloud computing. 

You can also give others access to your data on the cloud by ‘sharing’.  That’s what happens when you make your Pinterest or Springpad boards public.

I’ve written posts about a few apps that are cloud based – WunderlistSpringpad, and there’s more coming in the next few weeks.

What is cloud storage?

If you store all your files, pictures and music just on your computer it can take up a lot of space on your hard drive; years and years of photos and videos can really slow your computer down; and you can only access them when you are at your computer. 

Apart from individual cloud based apps, you can also use the Cloud to store your files, enabling you to work anywhere, on any document, on any device, as long as you have an internet connection.  Even if you have files scattered on your home computer, iPad, smartphone and a laptop, by using cloud storage, your files are shared and automatically synced across all your devices. 

You can use Cloud Storage to store your data in a remote location and then access it using an application called a ‘client’ on your computer, tablet or smartphone.  Some of the major Cloud storage providers are Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, and Dropbox.  Your files, pictures, videos and music are all automatically synced so that both the server and all your devices are up to date at all times.  Cloud storage is often used for file backup, instead of (or as well as) backing up to an external hard drive or USB.  Or, if you need to access a document when you’re away from your main computer, there’s no need to save a copy to a USB stick – you can access all your files as long as you have access to a computer and an internet connection - the library, an internet cafĂ©, or your sister’s computer while you’re visiting her on the other side of the world!  And not just ‘access’ your data, but add to it too.  You can use the cloud when you upload photos while you are travelling around the world.  Your photos are instantly synced and your family can see what you’ve been doing by accessing the album you have ‘shared’ with them on the cloud.

This week I’m going to be posting all about the Cloud.  Today was your introduction.  During the week I’ll be posting about some of the popular cloud storage services; safety and security when using the cloud; uses for the cloud you may not have thought of; lots of great cloud based apps; and more…..

22 June 2012

Children learning to type

I was out with some mums tonight and we got talking about kids learning to type, so Katrina, as promised, this post is for you……

With a mum who teaches computer skills, my boys are used to me ‘encouraging’ them to learn as much as they can about the technology they use at home and at school.  One skill I want them to have is being able to touch type.  It is a fundamental skill that they will need for the rest of their lives and I know that they will thank me when it comes to taking notes in classes, or completing assignments, but there are other benefits for them too. 

Typing is great for hand-eye co-ordination.  Typing is a complex task that requires the co-ordination of visual messages and the manual performance of all 10 fingers of both hands in precisely ordered movements. 

Typing gets kids thinking faster.  In academic terms it’s called cognitive automaticity.  Typing frees you from the slowness of handwriting, and lets you record your ideas at the speed of thought. The speed of thought is generally around 40 words per minute, whereas children in years four to six usually have a handwriting speed of 8 to 12 words per minute.

So I was very happy when last year my eldest son was given the homework task of learning how to type – in a week!  I remembered how I learnt in Business College - on a manual typewriter with a flip book practicing each row of keys.  For some reason I didn’t think that would work with my son!  So online I went, looking for a program that my son would actually use.  There are some great online programs for adults (for details of the one I think is best see my Downloads and Free Stuff page) but I wanted one that was aimed at kids.  I struck gold when I found BBC Dance Mat Typing.  It’s aimed at 7 to 11 year olds, with lots of bright colours and fun music, and animal characters guiding you through the different lessons and levels.  My son actually wanted to go onto the site after school each day – he was 9 at the time and by the end of the week he was touch typing – only slowly - but he was doing it.  Recently he asked if he could go onto the site again and even got his younger brother interested.  I’ve found that boys like learning to type because it’s like a race to see who can get the fastest speed.

There are other learn to type sites, but when I was looking I found that so many of them had screens that were cluttered with advertising, hard to navigate and far too many had annoying popups.  Take a look at BBC Dance Mat Typing – it has a clean and simple layout, very easy for your kids to find their way around, so they won’t be bothering you to help them.

20 June 2012

How to be the most organised person in the world

I love infographics - those long, long collections of ideas, thoughts, facts, anything at all, about a particular topic.  You'll find some great infographics at greatist.com, and this is my new favourite because if features so many techie tips to get you organised: 

Be the most organized person in the world

If you're wondering about the tools and apps mentioned in this infographic, I posted about Wunderlist here, and about laptop bags here.  Look out for posts about Evernote and Dropbox in the very near future.

Greatist is where to go for anything to do with health, fitness and happiness.  They also have fabulous infographics, so pay them a visit greatist.com

18 June 2012

How to create a collage for your Facebook Page or Timeline cover photo

Instead of just one photo as your Facebook Timeline or Page cover photo, get creative and create your own collage using Picasa’s Collage tool. 

1.      In Picasa, select your photos (one for a background and three or four smaller pictures) and add/hold them in the photo tray.

2.      Click Create on the menu bar and select Picture Collage.

3.      Click on the photo you want as your background.  In the Background Options area click Use Image.  You can then delete the smaller version of that photo from the collage photos.

4.      Click on the drop-down arrow in the Page Format area and select Add Custom Aspect Ratio (at the very bottom of the list)

5.      In the dialog box add the Facebook cover photo dimensions – 851 x 315.  Give it a name so you can use it again – Facebook cover photo.  Click OK.

6.      Now you can format the smaller photos over your background picture.  Reduce their size, angle and border style and position them where you like.  Don’t forget to leave room on the left side for your Facebook profile picture.

7.      Once you’re happy with the collage, click on Create Collage. 

8.      At the bottom of the screen click on Export and choose the location on your computer where you want to save the collage.  You need to specify the size = 850 pixels.  Click Export.

The last step is to add it to your Facebook timeline or page.  After logging in to Facebook, go to your Timeline or Page.  Move your mouse over the right side of your cover photo and click on Change Cover, and upload the collage.   Save Changes and you’re done. 

Picasa is a very easy to use photo editing program – and it’s free.  Download it here

17 June 2012

What you must do before you give away your old computer

With the end of the financial year approaching, you may be considering taking advantage of all the specials around and upgrading your computer.  What are you going to do with the old one?  Give it to your children – great.  What about giving it to another family member, or a friend? 

What have you been using that computer for?  Have you used your browser to store passwords?  Internet banking?  There’s bound to be a lot of personal data on it, and while you might trust a family member not to use it in a malicious way; what if they then give it away to someone else?  What if you decide to sell it at a garage sale, or on eBay?

Once you have finished with a computer you need to wipe it clean of all your personal data.  That means deleting:

  • Everything in the My Documents folder.
  • All temporary Internet files.
  • All cookies.
  • All files relating to personal and financial matters that may have been stored in folders other than My Documents.
  • All email: Outlook Express users need to search for and delete .dbx files; Windows Mail users need to search for and delete .eml files; and Microsoft Outlook users need to search for and delete .pst files.
  • Remove all email account settings and passwords.
  • Empty the Recycle Bin as the last step 

But, you're not finished yet.  When you delete a file from your hard drive it’s not really deleted, only the reference to it has been removed.  It’s like you’ve removed a chapter from the Table of Contents in a book.  Even though the chapter isn’t listed in the Table of Contents, if you look through the book you’ll still find that chapter.  The files you deleted still exist on your hard disk until they’re overwritten by other files; and while it’s harder for the average person to recover them, an experienced programmer or hacker could easily locate them. 

So, the last step you need to take before you give way or sell your computer is to overwrite everything on your hard drive.  You can run hard-drive erasing software, which will overwrite any remaining information with random ones and/or zeros.  Once your data is overwritten it is much harder to recover.

Some of the free drive-wiping software available is:

Ccleaner3 - Great drive-wiper, but also has tools for optimising your Windows system.

Eraser - Deletes files permanently and overwrites it multiple times.  

Active@KillDisk - Destroys all data on hard disks, USB drives, and then overwrites the drive using zeros.

Softpedia/DP Wiper - overwrites your data using zeros from one to 35 times.

As an alternative, if you have your operating system’s installation CD you should be able to reinstall and clear your hard drive simultaneously.   This should be enough to prevent the average person from obtaining personal information from your hard drive.   Unfortunately most modern computers don’t come with operating system disks. 

If your computer is broken or you have no one to give it to, and you’re just getting rid of it – there’s another option:  Just open up the computer and remove the hard drive; Unscrew the casing, exposing the disks; then smash them to pieces!

14 June 2012

Raising good Cyber Citizens

The government-run Cybersmart education program says that it’s important that families talk about how to be a good cyber citizen.  As it’s Cyber Security Awareness Week this is a great time to have a talk with your kids about what they shouldn’t do online…

·       Don’t post your name, age, address or the school you attend.

·       Don’t post about a night out or a holiday you or your family are taking – thieves will know your house is empty.

·       Don’t post about a party you’re going to, and especially not the address of the party.

·       Even if you don’t share where you are, your photos could reveal it.  Most smartphones automatically ‘geo-tag’ the precise latitude and longitude of where each picture was taken.  Burglars or stalkers can then extract this data and, using Google Earth, get a street view or address.  Even though Facebook and Twitter strip these geo-tags from photos, they remain embedded in images uploaded through third party applications. 

·       Remember:  your own Facebook page is a public space, and some online behaviours are not just unacceptable, but could even be criminal.

·       Don’t post derogatory comments about individuals or groups – they can be considered as inciting hatred.

·       Never post comments encouraging violent activity against people or organisations.

·       Don’t post abusive comments or unwanted images on someone else’s page.  Deliberately causing offence with comments or images is a crime.

·       Think twice about posting negative comments, particularly unsubstantiated ones, about a company’s products or services.  The company may be able to take action against you.

·       Footage of people participating in illegal activities can be used against them in court.

·       Never share private information, images or messages about or from others without their consent.

·       Tell kids if someone blocks them or rejects their friend request on a social media site, harassing them can be considered stalking.

13 June 2012

Is that app appropriate?

Everyone is familiar with the rating system for TV and movies, G, PG, M, MA15+ etc., and they’re now also on video games.  But you may not be aware that there is also a rating system for apps.  This is very important, as apps range from interactive books and games for toddlers through to adult only content, and the name of the app doesn’t always give you an accurate idea of what it is.  Be extra  careful if your child is doing the downloading – especially if their spelling’s not too good yet – they wouldn’t want to end up with Kandi (porn), if they really wanted Candy Train.

Every app sold through iTunes, and the Google Android Market is rated for age-appropriateness.  However, each operating system works a little differently…

The iTunes Store has four age limit categories ranging from 4+ to 17+.

Google’s Android Market also has a 4-tier rating system in place, but the levels are descriptive instead of age-based - everyone, low maturity, medium maturity, and high maturity.

Even though they have different rating systems, it’s not too difficult to find common ground.  This table may help. 

The important point is that all apps are now rated, so parents can make an informed decision about an individual app’s suitability.