Welcome to the Echo Show

It’s been around barely two years but your current Amazon Echo is being updated.  Welcome the ‘Echo Show’.  The what now?  Yes, Echo now comes with a screen and is being released in the US in June.

New-Echo-Inline It could be argued that this is just a fancy tablet, and that if the Echo is meant to be voice controlled, why would one need a screen?  A screen would simply add more functionality.  Think of all the cat photos you can look at while never having to type a single keystroke! Of course, there are more sensible options, weather, time, videos and the like.

Personally, I like the idea.  I have three Echos in the house already, but one with a screen would be useful, especially in the kitchen which is usually the ‘hub’ of any house.  Yes, I have an iPad that I bring into the kitchen for recipes or watching the news while I cook but I like the idea of a screen on a wall that’s voice activated.

There’s still room for improvement – at the moment, the Echo is still a one user device – it won’t work with multiple calendars for example but the good thing is the Echo has always been open for expansion and improvement.  Skills can be written and added just like your apps on a smart phone or tablet.  I’m looking forward to its release and seeing where Amazon take this device next!  Wired’s article on the Echo Show is worth a read.

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Taking the Mickey…

As the saying goes “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog…“.  It’s far too easy for people to pretend they are someone or something they are not.  Sometimes, that’s a good thing, but more often than not, it’s bad.  Anyone can create fake profiles on social media and use them to fool people into parting with their money.

This is why social media sites like Facebook and Twitter created ‘verified’ profiles. You can be sure if someone has a blue tick beside their name, they are who they say they are.  This is very important if you’re going to share a post, provide personal details or enter into a financial transaction.

These fake sites will often use a legitimate business name to fool people.  Let’s use Disney as an example.  Everyone knows the name, Disney. It’s a worldwide brand with a certain degree of trust associated with it.  This is how fraudsters take advantage of people.  They create a fake page and get you to share its post or provide your personal details. Then you wonder why you’ve never one a holiday or a cruise or free tickets. Disney isn’t the only victim, there are well-known pages claiming to give away RVs or cars, all using the same tactics.

In almost all cases, these big companies will never ask you to share a post to win something.  If they do, be sure the page is the real one.  Look for the blue tick beside their name.  Please note, the tick mark should NOT appear as part of their profile image.  Anyone can put a tick in an image using simple graphics software.  The tick will be beside their name only.

In the image below, you can see a common trick fraudulent pages use – a full stop (or period) after their name.  Both fake Disney pages on the left have one, and in addition, the bottom one shows irrelevant category.  These are common tricks used to fool people.

disney-tick

Both Facebook and Twitter have a process that allows you to request verification.  This isn’t available for every page but is very useful for big brands, business and celebrities.

If you see your friends sharing these sorts of fake pages, let them know they are scams and likely to compromise their personal information. And of course, tell them about this blog, and Phil The Geek on Facebook!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphene – it’s rather neat-o…

Graphene: it’s the world’s thinnest material and the most conductive. It’s been studied since the 1940s and over time, a number practical uses and loads of potential ones have been discovered.

Well, now it has another, potentially HUGE use.  The filtering of sea-water to produce drinking water.graphene.png

A mesh of graphene is used to filter out the salt, letting pure water through.  Until recently, the holes in the membrane were not small enough to stop all the salts from getting through.  Now scientists found a way around this.  The potential is huge if they can replicate it on a large-scale outside of the lab.

Many places in the world experience regular drought conditions. In fact, the UN predicts that by 2025, 14% of the world’s population will experience “water scarcity”.   Imagine water scarcity being a thing of the past.

Water desalinization plants already exist around the world (and on cruise ships) but can be resource intensive, though some advances have been made to reduce the energy required to produce potable water.

In a few years, the use of graphene could change all that and bring a regular supply of fresh water to millions who need it with a minimal energy requirement.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Read more here from the BBC’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Sam is watching…

Internet users in the US may soon find their internet browsing history being sold for ‘marketing purposes’.uncle sam watching

President Trump is soon expected to sign an order that repeals a law that stated ISPs (Internet Service Providers) must first have your permission before sharing your browsing history, including location data. The major ISPs in the US support this move arguing they are subject to stricter controls than the likes of social media giants like Facebook. Other supporters of the change claim it will increase competition.

Not surprisingly, privacy campaigners are not happy. What would you do if you learned your internet browsing history was sold to the highest bidder?

More here…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-39427026

YouTube in Trouble

Google-owned YouTube is in trouble.  A number of high-profile brands pulled their advertising from the site over the last week or so.   There have been complaints that these adverts are being shown alongside extremist content – whether that be terror related, homophobic, anti-semitic or white supremacists.

Brands such as The Guardian, M&S, BBC, AT&T, Verizon, and Johnson & Johnson have all pulled, or temporarily halted their ads for the time being.   Obviously, no brand with any sense wants their image associated with such undesirable content.

The problem is the automatic placing of the adverts – there’s little ‘human’ control over where the adverts get placed. The software that determines the placement of ads isn’t smart enough to realise the type of content.  Understandably, advertisers have had enough.

Google has apologised and promised to give more control to the advertisers allowing them more control where their ads appear.  How soon this happens remains to be seen.

Google and YouTube need big advertisers, as do the many users who create money making content.  They can’t afford to be so complacent in the future.

 

 

Don’t PIN your hopes on this…

One of the more persistent hoaxes floating around the internet is the ‘reverse PIN’.  It claims that entering your PIN in reverse at a bank machine (or ATM) will alert the police if you’re being forced to withdraw hoaxmoney.  This hoax has been doing the rounds since 2006.

It’s NOT true.  If you see someone sharing this hoax email or a post on Facebook and they refuse to believe it’s false, ask them this:

What if your PIN is 8118 or 7777 or 3223?  Those are the same forwards and backwards.  If this hoax was actually true, then banks would not allow you to have ‘palindromic’ PINs.  If they did that, many PIN combinations would not be permitted and it would be far easier to crack.

Those are the same forwards and backwards.  If this hoax was actually true, then banks would not allow you to have ‘palindromic’ PINs.  If they did that, many PIN combinations would not be permitted, thus making the system less secure.

The actual concept of entering your PIN in reverse has been discussed in the past but it has never been implemented anywhere.

It would be unlikely to work anyway.  How many people with a gun pointed at them would be able to easily remember their PIN, let alone what it is in reverse?  In addition, if the police were alerted, by the time they got to that location, the criminal would be long gone.

Keeping your PIN safe is extremely important.  When you are at a bank machine or purchasing something in the shops, be sure you shield the keypad from prying eyes.  Be aware of your surroundings and look for anything unusual that might be attached to the bank machine.  Card readers and small cameras can be attached to steal your PIN.  If you’re not sure, don’t use it.  Go into the bank and let them know.

Finally, if you ever see your friends share this reverse PIN hoax, be sure to let them know it is not true and give them a link to this post or simply use Google and search a phrase like “is the reverse PIN story true” – you’ll have your answer very quickly.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Add Fuel To The Fire

Social media goes into overdrive during large-scale events – whether that’s a sporting match, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.  It can be of tremendous help, but it can also cause problems.

The speed of the internet allowed up to the minute details of yesterday’s attack in London to be quickly broadcast.  It also meant individuals were able to let their loved ones know they were safe.  Using the internet to do that can be faster and more effective than calling or texting as the ‘bandwidth’ for the voice calls will be needed by emergency responders.

The downside: it also allows the easy sharing of rumours and speculation.  That can lead to confusion and the wrong people being identified.  That turns into witch hunts, and ruins lives, both the accused and the accusers.  In the recent past, people have been prosecuted for spreading ‘witch hunt’ type rumours over the internet.

When terror attacks happen, it’s all too easy to let your heart lead instead of your head.  You’ll find pages on Facebook specifically set up to take advantage of this.  Clickbait sites can quickly gather followers and popularity by posting images that speak to your emotions.  “Share this photo to show respect / catch the killer” is a common approach.  They tug at your heartstrings and hope you’ll share it without a second thought.

That is exactly what they want.  It leads to false information being spread, the vilification of specific groups of people and of course it raises that page’s profile.  Clickbait pages can take you to other suspect sites, generating revenue for them, and could compromise your profile information.

A good example: the right-wing group, Britain First has been using the image of the murdered soldier, Lee Rigby, on its social media platforms to further their cause. This is in spite of repeated requests from his family to stop using his name and image to fuel their agenda.

Even high-profile media sources can get it wrong sometimes. So unless you’re 100% certain you can trust the source (and maybe verify elsewhere), just scroll on by and don’t share the information.

Buzzfeed has published an article about the misinformation spreading online about this attack which is worth a read.

In distressing times, don’t let the bad guys win, you could be doing more harm than good.

 

What’s Your “ICE”?

The incident in Westminster, London, today is a good reminder to have your “ICE” contacts set up on your phone. “ICE” stands for In Case of Emergency. If you’re in need of help and unable to use your phone, emergency responders will know your ICE contact should be contacted. You can create a new ICE contact in your address book and you can also add this information to your ‘lock’ screen – see this link on how to do it.

http://uk.pcmag.com/productivity-products/70260/feature/how-to-add-emergency-info-to-your-phones-lock-screen

 

Those IT guys always say ‘turn it off and on again’ – why?

If you’ve ever used a computer in an office environment, at some point you will have called IT support. It’s almost certain your IT support staff suggested ‘turning it off and on again’ – otherwise known as rebooting or restarting.

Have you turned it off and on again” was turned into a catchphrase thanks to the “IT Crowd” comedy series.  When  IT staff ask clients to do this, it’s usually met with a roll of the eyes and an exasperated comment such as “you guys always say that”!

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It is true, it’s a common request from IT support, but why is that?

I would often ask my clients how often they restarted their computer during the week.  I’d say about 75% never did.  Some simply logged off, some locked their computer, and others just left their desk and relied on the computer to “lock itself” after a set period of time (that made our IT security people freak out!).  Ideally at the end of the day you should restart your computer so it’s  in a ‘fresh state’ for the next day.

Most computer problems have a known cause and a known solution.  However, it’s when a computer does very unexpected or weird things that, in my experience, a good place to begin troubleshooting is with a restart.

Cranky Computers

A computer that has been “on” for a week is essentially “tired” and getting cranky.

Imagine if you were expected to stay awake for 24 hours, or 48 or 72, or an entire week.  You’d be a total mess and unable to perform even the most basic tasks effectively.  Once you’ve had a good nights sleep, you’ve ‘reset’ your body and you’re good to go again for the day.

A computer is the same – as time goes on, more and more resources are used.  In a perfect computer, all the resources or “memory” used to run a piece of software should be released and available again when it’s closed.  That isn’t the case.  Eventually these ‘leftovers’ start to slow down your computer and eat up memory.  It becomes sluggish, and does odd things.

A full restart (NOT just logging off) will release those resources, reset everything and give it a fresh start, just as if you had a nice long sleep and woke up refreshed.  All those resources are now free to be used again.

It’s a very quick solution to most problems which is why your IT staff often suggest this as a starting point.  If the issue goes away then great. If not, then of course they will investigate further and do their best to fix the problem for you.

Restarting can be used to fix almost any piece of IT or electronic equipment as they all have some sort of operating system running software.  So if you find your smart phone, e-reader, cable box or router acting slow, a restart should be the first thing you try.

If you found this article helpful, share it and give me a follow!  Thanks!

 

Instagram – “Hide” Your Hashtags

Do you have an Instagram account?  If you do, no doubt you’ve seen many photo descriptions ‘lost’ amongst the hashtags.

Header-HashTag-100214While hashtags are an important part of Instagram, there’s a better, more tidy way.  Place your hashtags in a comment, immediately after you post your photo and description.

It will look much better.  Here’s how:

Open ‘notepad’ on your iPhone (or similar app on other smartphones).

Type a full stop ” . ” or dash “-“then press return.  Do this four more times, then type your hashtags on the sixth line.   You’ll get something like this:


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#hashtag #hashtag #hastag #hashtag #hastag #hashtag #hastag #hashtag #hastag #hashtag #hastag #hashtag


 

Then copy all that and paste it into a comment.  If you use the same set of tags often, save your note and reuse it the next time you post.

When someone looks at your Instagram photos, it will appear less messy but the hashtags will still be there to do their job!

Keep in mind you’re only allowed 30 hashtags per post and they should be relevant to your photo.

If you really want to have them in your photo description, only use a few, then put the rest in a comment.

If you’ve found this tip useful please share it below!