Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Android isn't safe

In the past I have not weighed in too heavily on the Android vs iPhone debate. It has seemed to me to be a matter of taste. However, I think a vulnerability to the Android platform has emerged that should concern anyone who ventures to use it. The problem is that all digital platforms have security vulnerabilities. Once the vulnerability is discovered, a race begins between the owners of the platform (who are trying to plug the security hole) and hackers (who are seeking to exploit the breach in order to steal identities and money).

 An example of one such vulnerability is documented here (as linked by Daringfireball.net). Patching this will require a coordinated effort among Google (who builds Android) the individual handset makers, and the telecom companies that put those handsets on their networks (because the software on each phone has to be customized for each network). Google can't do this by themselves, because they have ceded control over the implementation of their software to the telecoms. The handset makers are really hardware manufacturers, and aren't that passionate about the software that runs on their phones. In fact, many Android phones are sold with old versions of the software installed, and then never updated.

 "I don't care about having the latest features, it's just my phone" you might say. That's fine. However, when that phone holds your email, and account information for a myriad of other vendors you use, you should care! Many accounts, such as banks and travel accounts, use your primary email as a way to update your passwords. If someone hacks your email, they can then lock you out (and themselves in) to your accounts, and spend all your money and credit. Apple is certainly not immune to such security vulnerabilities. However, they have maintained control over how their operating system are implemented by the telecoms, and they screen software for malicious code before it is allowed on their gadgets. Furthermore, they are still manufacturing and updating the iPhone 3GS, which is now two generations old. Contrast this with Android phones, which are often abandoned by their telecom support long before the standard two year contract is up.

 Caveat emptor!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A useful podcast

My favorite tech podcasting network, 5by5.tv, recently picked up a long running podcast called Mac Power Users. These podcasters cover a lot of useful topics regarding both OS X, and iOS. I'm listening now to an episode about ditching cable tv service, and obtaining ones' favorite shows via other means. You can find this podcast by searching for it in the podcast section of iTunes, or by going to the 5x5.tv website.

Mobile blogging

After having been away from this blog for a while, I have discovered a way to jump back in -- google's iOS app for blogger. Hopefully this will allow me to post things "on the fly", which is the only way to get things done sometimes!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thoughts about kids and screens

I had a nice discussion about kids and screens with my friend Heidi Haas tonight.  She works with kids.  She works with kids who are doing fine, and kids who are struggling (emotionally), she works with many different ages of kids.  I have the highest regard for her work, so when she responded positively to the following ideas, it made me think that others might be interested in them, too.

She asked me a general question about what do I think about kids and iOS gadgets.  I responded with the following:

   * Basically, screen time is screen time to me.  Computers, handhelds, televisions, game consoles, all these are basically similar to me.  We let our kids use them all, within limits.   Probably about 45 minutes a day, to an hour, if we averaged it all out.
   * Since the iOS platform has matured, I have been inclined to make a finer distinction.  No longer can we assume "book -- good.  Screen -- bad".  There are plenty of apps for ipods and ipads that help kids do things that are creative and educational.  So with Jonas, I have at times used a "brain food vs brain candy" scheme.  Many apps on his beloved iPod are brain candy (plants vs zombies being his current favorite). Some however, that have to do with reading, writing, drawing, problem solving, picture taking, music making, these qualify as brain food.  We let him have more time with these activities than he would with brain candy apps.
   * Furthermore, apps are a great reward to use with token economy systems (star charts).  They don't cost much, you don't step on them in the dark in bare feet, and they don't take up any physical space.  I have had deals with Jonas where, if he "beat" (exhausted) a brain food app (such as sight words), then I would buy him a game.  This has worked well.  There is even a star chart app (of course).

She asked what I think about very little kids and iOS devices.  I think the platform itself is great for kids, as it gives them independent, portable access to a lot of great activities. However, it is so easy to use that kids could wander into content that is not at all appropriate for them, if the grown ups aren't careful.  Like any screen time, it is very important to be aware of what your child is accessing from moment to moment.

I think this independent learning is an important and under-recognized feature.  I see this both in Julian, and in my adult students.  As an educator, I'm tempted to decry the loss of personal contact in the learning process.  However, when I step back, I see that it is very empowering for learners to have total control over the pace and direction of learning.  I find they still come to me (teacher or parent) about things, but they feel good about learning a lot, then asking more sophisticated questions.  I think there is a lot about this to like.

I think our boys have learned a lot from their iPods.  Lately, they have discovered the camera function on Julian's (which is an old iPhone).  I was waiting for that.  I'm going to post some of the best results on instagram on my feed (IanCamera).  I'll tag them, although I'm guessing that you will be able to spot most of them.

Happy Tapping!  (With or without elmo :-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Favorite tool, reborn

I really love a launcher called Quicksilver.  It is one of a class of applications whose job it is to help you launch and run other applications.  QS is a famous example on OS X, although there are plenty of others.  

It has been limping along, after having been abandoned by its original developer.  However, it seems to have found new support.  

You can get it at http://qsapp.com/
You can find out more at http://qsapp.com/wiki/Main_Page

If you spend much time at all on a mac, you should really use this or something else like it.  You will abandon your mouse, and work much faster at the same time!

Important Info about your email!

A major third party manager of email accounts has been breached, which is likely to make you vulnerable to phishing attacks.  Here is an article that suggests things you can do to avoid such vulnerability in the future.  There is something delicious about jamming the spammers, isn't there?


Monday, February 14, 2011

Favorite app (tonight)

My buddy Jeremy tonight on Facebook asked about people's favorite iPad apps.  It is a great question, without a perfect answer.  It's like asking a woodworker "what's your favorite tool?"  The answer will be "for doing what?"

Tonight's answer would be TED.  I think it runs on the smaller iOS devices, too, although that is exactly the kind of app that I pruned from my phone when I switched to the 8 gig one.

I love TED because you can perch your device above the sink, and have some really smart person present something excellent about important stuff while you wash the dishes.  Awesome!

So Jeremy, happy dish washing!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Addendum regarding GoodReader

I was just writing some simple instructions for my mom about getting a pdf from an email attachment to GoodReader, and I realized that others might find them to be useful. So, here they are:

Open the email from me that includes the attachment.  Then tap on the icon for the file itself.  The file will open right then on your screen.  Tap once in the center of your screen and the title of the file will appear at the top.  To the right of the file title is an icon of an arrow leaping out of a box.  Tap on that icon.  Choose the second button down, "open in...".  On that list should be GoodReader, which will swing into place if you choose it.  

I hope this helps GoodReader be useful!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Mac app store

The success of the app store for iOS devices has led Apple to create a similar one for Macintosh computers, as well.  This will allow developers to reach a larger audience on OS X, and allow users to find, evaluate, purchase, and install software much more easily.

If you use a Mac, go up to the apple menu in the upper left corner of your screen, and click on "software update".  You will probably get a dialog box with a few different updates, some of which may require you to restart your Mac.  This is a good idea anyway, even if you don't care about the app store.

Once it has installed the updates, you will find a new icon in the doc at the bottom of your screen that matches the one on iOS devices; a blue circle with an "A" in the center.  Clicking on it launches the app store, with an interface that is very familiar to many of us.  The first app to catch my eye is my perennial favorite, Evernote (which is free, btw).

The install process really is as easy as it is on a iOS device, at least in my first try.  The new app appeared a few seconds later in my dock, ready to go.

I looked for some of my other favorite OS X software, and I don't see it, yet (Quicksilver, Nocturne, Scrivener).  It will be interesting to see if these established applications make their way into that store, or not.

The day has finally arrived!

OK, so Scott, my brother in law, would agree that the day we are *really* waiting for is the day we all get flying cars.  But short of that, we now have a better way to read articles and documents than printing them to comment once, and then file/shred/pile/recycle.  The iPad app called GoodReader.  Good.iWare Ltd has an iPhone version, but I must admit I haven't tried it.  

Many people, particularly those of us in academia (or in science, or publishing) know this situation all too well.  We have piles of documents that we don't want to read on the screen because our eyes get tired *and* we want to mark them up for ourselves or others.  So we print them out *once*, mark them up with a pen or pencil, and then send those comments on to whoever needs them.

"I *have* to print them" we say, "because my eyes get too tired from looking at a screen.  And my free PDF reader on my laptop won't save comments for others.  And my laptop is too heavy."  

This app, on an iPad, solves all those problems, using the extremely common ".pdf" file type.

  1. It offers a *plethora* of mark up options (follow the link for more screenshots).  Some of them are structured, typed, and pretty, others are more like marking up by hand.
  2. It saves all those markups as a second version of the file, so you can share either the untouched original or the one with your comments.
  3. An iPad is much lighter than a laptop.  And certainly much lighter than a big pile of papers or manuscripts or journal articles.
  4. And its battery runs much longer than a laptop.
  5. Tired eyes?  It offers contrast control so that you can make it nice and soft for your tired, end of the day, been staring at screens all day eyes (use "nocturne" or similar tools to do this on your laptop, too!).  And scroll down to see how the "zoomed in" view works.  Simple touchscreen gestures bring the whole column up to the width of the screen (in either landscape or portrait orientation).  How big would your stack of papers be if you printed everything at that font size?  
I think this is a key reason that the iPad is a better choice for academic types than the Kindle.  I know there are annotation features built into the Kindle, but that clunky keyboard simply can't keep up with apps like this one.  Furthermore, I think folks that prefer the Kindle screen simply haven't played with the settings on an iPad enough.  The one exception to that would be bright sun, in all honesty.

Happy reading!

Goodreader zoomed in

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A word on wall warts

Lots of folks have received iPads, iPods etc for presents through the holiday season (including Mana!).  It is worth knowing a bit about those little wall warts that come with your gadgets.  They take the current from the wall and convert it, so that your little handheld gadget can digest it.

The iPhone/iPod ones are little cubes.  Very handy and elegant.  However, they don't work for iPads, which need stronger juice.

The iPad one looks like a smaller version of the one that came with my macbook pro ("MPB" for those "in the know").  It has a folding plug.  It *will* work for the iPods and iPhones in your house.

You can also find third party ones, which are likely to be cheaper than the Apple ones.  Beware of these, as you often get what you paid for.  I found one that seemed like a deal at RadioShack (now known simply as "TheShack").  It does work on iPhones and iPods, however it makes a high-pitched sound when nothing is plugged into it.  I haven't even tried the iPad in it.

These gadgets, specifically their high-tech batteries, are also finicky about car chargers, by the way.  My recommendation is to buy any of these accessories at a place where it isn't hard to return them if necessary!

I'm thinking of investing in some of these when they come out, as we have a few spots where we very frequently charge our gadgets, and I like the idea that they aren't vampires, sucking power even when when nothing is plugged into them (a drawback of the wall warts in general).