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Connected Home & the Twin Cities

sb-st-tc-comLast week I was interviewed by Julio Ojeda-Zapata, the TwinCities.com and St. Paul Pioneer Press technology reporter. We talked about my enthusiastic use of the leading home automation platform SmartThings, Apple’s announcement of their HomeKit at WWDC, and home automation in general.

His article starts out with:

A slumbering Steve Borsch of Eden Prairie did not move when an iPhone notification pinged at his bedside. He didn’t budge for a second alert either.

The third time was the charm, and good thing. It was January, the temperature outside was minus 14, and his home was freezing because the furnace had mysteriously turned off.

Read the article at TwinCities.com…

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Slo-Mo Sprinklers

Foolin’ around this morning shooting video on my iPhone. After viewing it I really liked the haunting bird song, along with the moth flitting about back-n-forth, and it put a smile on my face so thought I’d share it.

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Frontline’s United States of Secrets

frontline-ussecrets

Last night was part two of the PBS Frontline program called United States of Secrets. It was one of the best, most thorough overviews of what is going on with the NSA’s vacuum surveillance that I’ve ever seen.

You owe it to yourself, and the future of our children, to be aware of what’s going on.

NSA Finally In The Light

nsa-logoI’ve been deeply concerned about the massive, sweeping surveillance going on for over TEN YEARS! Whenever I bring up this topic (and online security in general) too many of my family and friends just shrug and say, “Oh well.” Frankly, I just don’t understand why most people don’t seem all that concerned about our fundamental erosion of liberty caused by the NSA’s mass surveillance.

Thankfully the Edward Snowden whistleblowing finally shined a light on what I intrinsically knew was going on shortly after 9/11 (see Snowden’s revelations and the overall controversy at The Guardian’s NSA Files website section). Yes, I feel vindicated for my paranoia but that attestation is not something I longed for…instead I hoped the government’s drive to classify their constitutional violations and illegal activities as “keeping America safe from terrorism” would stop.

Unfortunately that whistleblowing has made it increasingly hard for companies who sell their technology outside of the United States. For example, the NSA was inserting hardware in Cisco routers which caused CEO John Chambers to write a letter to President Obama asking for it to cease…now.

We’ve only seen the beginning of the backlash and erosion of our competitiveness around the world since no one trusts us anymore.  [Read more...]

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Is the Wells Fargo Mobile App Anti-Security?

wellsfargo-app

The Wells Fargo iPhone app disallows using the “Paste” capability in the phone to paste in long, high entropy passwords copied from my LastPass vault.

It is always interesting to me how banking apps, both web and mobile, specifically making a smartphone or tablet app very hard to use if you use a password with high entropy (see this Wikipedia article on password strength and especially “Entropy as a measure of password strength“).

Since I use a password manager (LastPass) with literally hundreds of sites in my ‘vault’, I use very strong passwords. They are comprised of upper/lowercase letters; numbers; special characters; and are ones that make it simple to have quite strong passwords for anything that matters (and they’re all different!).

So what do I have to do on my iPhone? Open my LastPass vault app; login to LastPass; find my Wells Fargo account; touch it and, in the popup, choose “Copy Password”; and then open the Wells Fargo app and choose the Password field; then choose “Paste”.

EXCEPT THE WELLS FARGO APP DISALLOWS PASTING A PASSWORD IN THE PASSWORD FIELD!

The problem is this: There is NO way I could ever remember my password since it is so long and contains so many characters of different types. Curiously the Wells Fargo app also disallows pasting anything in to the Username field…so I can’t even do a workaround by pasting my high entropy password temporarily in to the Username field and then typing it in the Password field.

Get your shit together Wells Fargo. With this app developed this way you are DISCOURAGING THE USE OF STRONG PASSWORDS! 

Of course, they do say on their website here that, “We take your privacy and security very seriously. Read about why our mobile banking services are secure. Learn more…” but I’m not going to dumb-down my password to use their mobile app.

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We Are All Connected: My DNA Journey

UPDATE 5/11/2014
Saw this article today and did some investigation.
A variant of the gene KLOTHO (KL) is known for its anti-aging effects in people fortunate enough to carry one copy. Now researchers find that it also has benefits when it comes to brain function. The variant appears to lend beneficial cognitive effects by increasing overall levels of klotho in the bloodstream and brain.” Also, Klotho (KL) is generally considered to be a tumor suppressor gene in breast and pancreatic cancers.

Turns out I have the variant. I would never had known that had I not been able to login to 23andMe and discover that I had it. Cool, heh?

Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!

That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.

23andme-kitAfter this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.

It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.

I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool.  [Read more...]

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New Zealand in 4K

This video, shot in 4k of New Zealand vistas, is visually spectacular (even though my own display is not in 4k resolution). Watch it in full screen mode and enjoy the quality AND see why visiting New Zealand should be on your bucket list:

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What Caused Bluehost’s MASSIVE FAIL

Click '+' for an email from Bluehost's CEO on Friday, April 18. Too bad he couldn't be bothered to say anything earlier.
Click '+' for an update from Bluehost Support which, ironically, arrived 24 hours after yesterday's 1pm outage.

An unknown number of Bluehost servers went down yesterday, April 16th, at 1pm central time. This may have been limited to their Dedicated (which I own) and virtual private servers (VPS) but that’s unknown too. It’s also unknown what caused it, even approximately when it will be fixed, or other pretty basic items a paying customer wants to know when a service is failing.

In this post I will tell you about two fails Bluehost made: them communicating to customers about the outage and what caused the outage in the first place.

BLUEHOST COMMUNICATION FAIL

Outages do occur at webhosts…they just do. But why so many unknowns and a clear reluctance to be transparent? Because Bluehost has failed dramatically at THE MOST BASIC customer relations item: communicating with customers about why something isn’t working as promised. Rather than have a status page at Bluehost.com that either has status updates on it or embeds their Twitter and Facebook feeds, they ask people to follow them “and check our Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates.” How incredibly bush-league.

A few cut-n-paste tweets from Bluehost Support

For hours and hours and hours they have been telling people essentially, “I dunno” which is unacceptable. Not only is this impacting an untold number of people (the tweets are numerous) this is a PR disaster and customers will undoubtedly flee. Especially those who have clients on Bluehost due to their recommendation, one that now makes those recommenders look like a bunch of clueless imbeciles.

I’ve also been evangelizing Bluehost’s new Dedicated server offering since it has been very fast and their Level III tech support access the best I’ve ever had with any host I’ve ever used. Several of my clients have purchased Dedicated servers (and yes, ALL of them pinged me about where they should go next because they are absolutely getting off Bluehost!).

From 1pm Wednesday April 16th through today, Bluehost Support can only tell customers “I dunno”

From 1pm Wednesday April 16th through today, Bluehost Support can only tell customers “I dunno”

Will I continue to evangelize? Nope. I might have cut Bluehost some slack IF they had been communicative. I may continue to evangelize IF Bluehost provides recompense for my server downtime and IF they provide a plan on how NOT to repeat a fiasco like this in the future. If they say or do nothing I’ll take my business and that of my clients elsewhere.

But here is what caused the outage.

[Read more...]

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Global Conflict Declining

conflict

Since the late Middle Ages, on average a shrinking proportion of the world population has died in conflict each year. Westphalian war has become less prevalent since the mid 20th Century, with not a single Great Power war since 1953. Size of bubble shows percentage of world population killed. CLICK GRAPH FOR LARGER VIEW

bill-gates

Bill Gates shared this on his Facebook page and said about it, “It may be hard to believe, but conflict is actually on the decline. These 6 infographics explain: http://b-gat.es/1kM2omV

You can view the post at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies here or download the report PDF.

via Daren Klum

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Understand What ‘Resolution’ Means

As an amateur photographer, I often try to explain to people why my small Nikon D5000‘s 12.3 million pixels produces a better photo than their smartphone camera or even what could be produced by this new Lumia 930 with its 20 megapixel camera.

Besides the obvious: the lens is bigger, it is that and the sensor in the camera that determines the resolution of the image. I know figuring out resolution, and why it matters, is a challenge so I encourage you to watch this very well presented short video that explains it better than anything I’ve seen yet:

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Web’s Inventor Calls for Net Neutrality

The NeXT computer on which Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the World Wide Web

The NeXT computer on which
Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the World Wide Web

This year the World Wide Web turns 25 years old. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Web, is imploring the world to keep the Web free, open, neutral and robust.

There is no question that Berners-Lee has deep and profound concerns about the direction the Web has taken. From global mass surveillance to net neutrality, he clearly sees his baby, the World Wide Web, as one of the most powerful inventions in human history but one in jeopardy of being subsumed by governments, corporations, or others in power positions. 

He’s created a website, Webat25.org, highlighting what he discusses in this video below and it is one you should visit.