I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s so fun! All my photos look so antique and vintage! It makes me feel like a creative butterfly. Look at the lens flares and film grain!”

Please stop it. You’re killing me. You’re killing art.

First off, old things aren’t better. I know, that’s not what the advertising industry and politicians would have you believe. You know, back in their day, grass grew twice as green, butter didn’t make you fat, men were men, boys were men, children were men, women cried more softly, and Santa’s dreams smiled with the joy of a thousand bunny rabbit raindrops on Christmas morning, like a baby infant’s newborn dreams of gumdrops and American flags. It was an era of bygone times: Family values, virgin purity, universal piety, and ever-present poetry.

Except it’s not true. When you click a button to crop your picture of a beer bong square, add white borders, and wash everything out, it doesn’t look “better.” It just looks like ass, and I’m not talking the four-legged gray snorting kind seen on farms. It looks fake-old, and that doesn’t make it nostalgic. You weren’t alive then anyway. Please stop.

Secondly, your “art” sucks. You know why? Because it isn’t yours, and it isn’t art. It’s an algorithm produced by a programmer in silicon valley (or India, I don’t know). Your pretty vintage photos look like everyone else’s. Stop it. Would you value a Picasso if he took a picture of his cat and clicked the “weird” button on his iPhone i4SG3E? No. If you’re going to ruin your photo with faux-antiquity, have the decency to learn to do it yourself. You do not get to become a magical butterfly artist by downloading an app. Tyler Durden was right.

Lastly, you’re killing your photos. While today’s smartphones still trail true digital cameras like a one legged Danny DeVito trails Michael Jordan in free throws — no, really, they aren’t real cameras; stop it — they’re pretty damn good. You know what’s really not good? Taking one of those fairly nice photos and bending it over the bathroom sink by applying permanent destructive edits. You know, so your picture of a Dos Equis bottle looks hip. Like the Arctic Monkeys, but before your square of a boss started listening to them. Someday, you might want a picture of you and your grandma that doesn’t look like your middle school bus driver sat on it all day. Someday, your grandchildren might want to believe you lived in 2012, not 1912. Stop it. That hilarious plumber’s crack you just snapped isn’t from the 50s. No one believes you. That’s just dumb.

You wanna seem artistic by making stuff look messed up? Cool, do it. But just like breaking rules of grammar, you’re only allowed to do it intentionally once you learn the rules that say you shouldn’t. If you can’t make your photo look like crap manually, you shouldn’t be doing it automatically. If you don’t know how to make art without being to photography what Hot Topic is to rebellion (corporate, manufactured, bad), you’re doing it wrong. And for the love of god, please take a step back and think about why you want your pictures to look that way. Think of the consequences. Think of America. Think of the children.

Google Docs (Getting Started)

If you enjoyed Reader you’re gonna love Google Docs.

Google Docs is comprised of several tools that you might expect to find included in an “Office Suite” of applications. It also includes a few you might not expect. The most important thing to remember when working with Google Docs is that your information is stored online (in the cloud). This makes accessing and sharing your docs easy regardless of device or location.

So now you know that documents created within Google Docs are portable, stored online, and easy to share. Now let’s explore how easy it is to get started. Simply visit and log-in with your Google account. Once you login you should see a “Create” button at the upper left corner.

When you click Create you will be presented with different types of files you can create. We’ll start simple and choose to create a Document. Once you’ve created a new document the first thing you will most likely want to do is give it a name.

To give your document a name simply click on the “Untitled document” name, this will prompt you for a new document name.

Enter your document’s name and click Ok. At this point your document has a new name. You may not have noticed, but this also caused the document to save. Bringing me to another interesting point about Google Docs.

If you look in the file menu you will notice that a feature appears missing. Look closely and think about what looks wrong.

If you said there is no Save option, then you would be correct. In Google Docs you never save anything, it’s all done automatically. While this seems simple enough, it’s actually pretty hard to simply trust that all your hard work will “automagicly” appear without taking the time to save a document. Take a leap of faith and trust me. It works.

At this point I’d encourage you to take some time to click through some of the menu items, then hover over the formatting options. For the most part it works just like any other word processor you’ve used.

Perhaps you would rather work with some documents you’ve previously created, or simply see how compatible Google Docs is with your current word processing software?

Google allows you to upload files to your Google Docs as well. Next to the create button, you will find an icon that resembles a disk drive with an up arrow. Click this icon to view the upload features. You can upload single files, as well as entire folders full of files.

For more information regarding uploads you can see Google’s official documentation.

So in this post we’ve described how to access Google Docs, create and name a new document, introduced you to autosave, and shown you how to upload documents. I’d encourage you to play with the word processor and see what you can and can’t create. If you hit snags or want to know how to do something feel free to post questions below.

In my next post I’ll cover the basics of sharing, editing, and collaborating with Google Docs.

Google – Reader Customizations

If you’re following the Google series on this blog, then you should have some feeds in your Reader by now. As you can imagine, after a little time with Reader you might begin to experience information overload. Obviously you’re going to have a number of interests, and several sources of information.

Not to worry, because Google makes it easy to organize your content. As you look over any of your feeds, you’ll see a small down arrow display to the right of the feed name. Click this to open the feed’s menu, and you’ll have the option to create a new folder.

Once you’ve created a new folder it will appear above the new folder option, so that you can easily add other feeds to the folder. You will be able to see new article counts by folder, or read articles in feeds contained within the folder. This topic based organization allows you to quickly find and scan new information as it arrives. Below you will see an example of Google Reader with a large number of feeds and folders.

As you can see this folder creation and tagging system works well if you start early and maintain a system. What happens when you have built up hundreds of feeds without a system? Head over to Reader Settings, and manage your subscriptions.

Choosing the subscriptions tab shows you a list of your subscriptions, and offers a quick and efficient way to add them to folders on the fly. Trust me – if you want to organize in bulk, this is the way to go.

Folders aren’t the only way to organize content – you can also use tags. Tags allow you to mark and organize specific articles by content. To create or add a tag to an article you simply use the sharing bar at the bottom of the article and select Add Tag.

I added a Security tag to this article, and now the security tag will display in my folders list. Articles I tag with security will automatically be sorted into this tag’s view.

Tags and folders work in a very similar fashion. The best way to describe the difference is one organizes subscriptions (folders) the other organizes content (tags). One important distinction is the Create a bundle option listed in the Tag properties above. This option allows you to create a sharable view of content you’ve tagged. So for example I can create a bundle of security articles based off of my security Tag, that would be exposed for others to read.

Google has several other methods to share content you’ve read as well. Once again we head over to the Google Reader settings.

This time we’re going to visit the Send To tab, this will allow us to add items to the sharing bar under our article content.

As you can see several social media tools, as well as social bookmarking sites are available by default. If your favorite site isn’t listed (or you want to build a quick .Net Aggregation tool) you can add custom sharing sites to the list as well. Simply scroll down the page a bit and you’ll see the ability and instructions to add your favorite sharing utilities. I’ve added a few base services so you can see exactly how easy it is to share content as you read.

Now you know how to subscribe to feeds, organize your content, and even share in various ways. As an added bonus I’m going to share one of my favorite ways to build feeds of custom information. While this isn’t really a Google Reader feature it fits well with setting up Reader so here we go. This is how you build a customized RSS feed based on search results.

Visit and you’ll see the screen below.

Notice the last option “Deliver to:” set this to feed and you’re ready to build a custom RSS feed built on Google Search results. So if I wanted to get new IFRS content as soon as Google discovers it, I’d simply add IFRS to the search box and hit Create Alert.

You can get very creative with your alerts and as you see above, they are instantly added to your Google Reader upon creation. If you need a primer on how to build specific queries in Google Search you can see our post from last year about advanced Google searches.

Happy reading I hope you enjoy Google Reader, and remember to share you comments below.

Crypto basics

Maybe you visit your bank’s website, and your browser informs you that the connection is secure, safeguarding your account credentials in transit. Or perhaps you swipe your credit card at the grocery store, where your credit card number is encrypted before being transferred over the wire. Maybe you open your laptop in the airport and start a secured VPN connection back to your office so that you can get some work done on the road. Or perhaps your doctor, during a routine checkup, types his password in to the computer in the exam room, unlocking your medical file so he can see his last notes.

Most of us use and benefit from the advances of cryptography every day without even realizing it, but to the vast majority of people outside the specialized niche field of cryptology, the very mechanisms whose security their privacy and safety depend on remains an almost complete mystery. Today, we’ll take a brief look at two of the most common components that keep you snug as a bug in a rug.

First, some terms: Data (no matter what it actually is) are called plaintext if they’re “in the clear,” i.e., unencrypted (think your Social Security Number written on a piece of paper), or ciphertext if they’re encrypted (the same data, made unintelligible). The process that transforms one into the other is called encrypting (or decrypting, going back). The encryption algorithm is the sequence of steps used to perform the de/encryption. Generally, the algorithm is a piece of public knowledge — what is used in combination with the data to encrypt is the key. (To draw an analogy, the blueprint for a padlock should be able to be publicly known without making your particular padlock any easier to open, because you still need the key to open it.)

Encryption algorithms can be broken into two broad categories: Asymmetric algorithms and symmetric ones.

Symmetric algorithms are named as much because the same key performs both the encryption and the decryption. One of the most primitive and famous of these is the so-called Caesar cipher, employed by Julius Caesar to transmit secret orders to his generals on the battlefield. In the Caesar cipher, each letter of the alphabet was shifted three characters to the right: “A” became “d,” “b” became “e,” and so on, wrapping around at the end: “x” became “a,” “y” became “b,” and “z” became “c.” To decrypt, simply shift three letters the opposite direction.

While this is obviously no longer secure (it worked primarily because the messengers who carried the encrypted messages were illiterate anyway), it demonstrates the concepts perfectly. The algorithm here would be “add to (subtract from) each letter the key” to encrypt (decrypt), and the key used was 3. The same both ways, hence, symmetric.

While modern symmetric ciphers are considerably more secure (and complex) — relying on heavily abstract mathematics and theoretical computer science — they still share the same strengths (relative simplicity) and weaknesses: Chiefly, that you still have to transmit the key somehow, which opens up a vulnerability (in intercepting it).

Enter asymmetric ciphers! In contrast to their brothers the symmetric ciphers, asymmetric algorithms use two different keys, a public key and a private key. In essence, the public key can be known to anyone (hence its name) and the private key kept to yourself, and having the public key tells you nothing about the private key. To encrypt a message to you, someone would take your public key, and with the encryption algorithm, produce a message for you. The only key that could unlock that message would be your private key — not even the public key that generated it would work to unlock the cleartext once enciphered.

If you’re wondering why asymmetric algorithms aren’t the silver bullet I’m making them out to be, that’s because there are several catches:

  1. They tend to be significantly slower than symmetric algorithms.
  2. While symmetric algorithms usually do not (significantly) change the size of the data after encryption, asymmetric algorithms usually produce ciphertext that is several times larger than the cleartext that you started with.
  3. They rely on assumptions about the mathematical “hardness” of certain problems, like factoring the product of two large primes or recovering large discrete logarithms.
  4. While the keys needed for symmetric algorithms don’t need to be very large, the ones for secure asymmetric algorithms must be.

Still, with these two pieces, we can sketch a rough outline of what happens between two computers to establish secure communications:

  1. Ahead of time, create public and private keys for an asymmetric algorithm.
  2. The two computers begin talking, and decide on the algorithms they’re going to use.
  3. They exchange public keys with each other.
  4. They generate a random key to use for symmetric encryption, and use the asymmetric algorithm to share it. Since the key can be small, the time this takes and the data generated don’t matter as much.
  5. They begin using the symmetric algorithm, using the key they shared with the asymmetric one in step 4.

The details are complex, and there are many more intricacies which I’ve left out here, but if you followed the discussion, you should be well on your way to a deeper and firmer understanding of just how your data stays safe.

Google – Consuming news with Google Reader

Like most professionals I use the Internet to find, consume, and share information. Even with all the great types of content on the Internet, content itself is still king. Also, like most professionals I have issues with email overload. Often times getting newsletters via email that I plan to read later, or sometimes that I never pan to read at all. For me, keeping up with what’s happening in several different professions is critical, and sharing is part of my job so I needed a better way.

A few years ago I started using Google Reader to manage my information consumption. As Google says it, Reader is like a magazine that you customize. In short it’s just a really good RSS reader. From the image below, you’ll see the interface isn’t too different from email, so nothing here should be too scary.

Now what you’re seeing is my reader account, and it’s been tweaked over the years for my personal preferences and specific needs. Your reader experience will be significantly different, especially if you’re a new Google account holder.

So with a completely clean experience, Reader isn’t very impressive. The first thing we need to do is find some content to read. One way to do this is to do a manual subscription. Many sites have the ability to detect an RSS reader requesting a feed. TechieBytes happens to be one.

Now that you’ve added a feed, you should see some content in Google Reader:

Google offers other ways to find content feeds as well. Under the explore options you will notice Recommended Items and Recommended sources. Right now these are most likely empty or near empty. If not you’ve been using your google account for a while and Google has some idea of what you read. The more you add to and use Reader, the more items will be populated under these tabs. It’s good to check back to these frequently when you’re just starting out. You’ll be amazed at the new sources of news you’ll find.

Under these two options you’ll see a “View all recommendations >>” option. While it will most likely lack the needed data to make real recommendations at this point, it holds some valuable options. Browse and Search appear as tabs within this section.

Within the Browse tab Google offers almost 450 predefined bundles of feeds to choose from. These bundles are a great way to get started with finding new content. If you can’t find what you want within the bundles, jump over to search and see if you can find your topic of interest within the results.

In this post we showed you how to get started with Google Reader. In our next post we’ll show you how to organize and manage your feeds, how to share content, and how to build custom feeds based on Google Alerts.

Happy reading and as always, if you have comments or suggestions post them below.

What’s new with Microsoft?

Yep, I decided to write a Microsoft post in the midst of an Apple announcement about the latest and greatest iPad. I know it might not make a ton of sense, but to me Apple could be making Microsoft great again. Stick with me, and think about it. Before the iPhone and iPad was there any real reason for Microsoft it innovate? We haven’t seen any real change to the Windows Interface since 1995. Post iDevice mass adoption is seems Microsoft is hard at work reinventing absolutely everything.

Windows 8

Currently released as a customer preview and rumored to be released later this year, the one word everyone agrees on to describe Windows 8 is “different.” Depending on who you are this can be good or bad but from my perspective, change is good and Windows 8 has a boatload of newness.

Built ground up with touch in mind, and using the Metro UI the Windows 8 interface is very much like Windows Phone. Items are easy to find, organize and access regardless of if you’re using your finger or using a mouse. These larger tiles replace icons and also enhance the experience by adding data streams, that offer value rather than simply starting applications.

The interface isn’t all that’s new. Microsoft has embraced the web, bringing both social and cloud to the forefront. Managing your connections, seeing the world around you, and sharing and collaborating all become part of the Windows 8 base experience.

To learn more and stay up to date on Windows 8, might I suggest the following:

Windows Phone 8

Microsoft simply abandoned many years of smart phone development, and changed directions creating a completely new experience with Windows Phone. Being late to the game and changing directions has left Microsoft at the back of the pack but they don’t intend on staying there long. While little is known about Windows Phone 8, leaks have confirmed that they have abandoned the CE kernel, and that Windows Phone 8 will run the NT kernel. In general terms, what that means is Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will share a common base platform.

By sharing a common base, much of the code used to write Windows applications can be ported over to the Windows Phone platform. This means more apps faster, and more enterprise quality apps than the competitors. Simply put, apps sell smartphones, and Microsoft is lining up to make Windows Phone  a juicy target for developers.

Windows Phone also shares a common user experience with Windows 8. If you’re using a Windows 8 PC or Tablet using Windows Phone will feel natural. Tight integration with Microsoft cloud services means your data goes with you. Yet again, tight (but different) integration with social gives you a clear view of your connections and what’s going on in your world.

Microsoft Office 15

Office 15 has been released into technical preview with a select few business customers get an early view of the software and the rest of us have to depend on leaks to fill in the gaps. Regardless of the changes one thing is for sure, some people will love it, many will hate it. Changing MS Office is a difficult task but Microsoft is committed and claims this is the most ambitious undertaking the Office Development team has ever taken on.

Really more ambitious than forcing the ribbon on us? My guess is yes. With new competition from both Apple and Google, MS is feeling the heat within the enterprise market. Office is the key to maintaining enterprise dominance, and I expect to see huge changes to:

  • Enable touch input and enhance the product for other new types of input methods
  • Increase both internal and external document collaboration and sharing
  • Incorporate a UI that is more metro styled, and less ribbon

While I’d expect people to be very vocal about the changes we’ll see from Microsoft this year there is no doubt we will see change. I think Microsoft is on track to get it right again. Working as a fast follower might just pay off. If things go right, it’s possible they will be the first to archive a consolidated experience across all platforms, and that is a true advantage to enterprise customers.

Some say necessity is the mother of invention, and in technology competition is a real mother. Seems like the sleeping giant is waking up, but is it in time?

Protect yourself by becoming socially secure

Life is busy. We’re so focused on the day to day operations of our daily lives that you may not be thinking of your social security. No, not that Social Security – your social media security.

A poll conducted by MetLife Auto & Homes in the U.S. shows that 35% of Americans age 18-34 check in or tweet their location on Twitter, Foursquare or Facebook. There’s nothing like announcing to burglars, “Hey, my house will be vacant for the next several hours while I attend a concert! Have at it!”

Don’t think that criminals really take that much time to research their crimes beforehand? An astonishing 78% of burglars use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to target potential properties, according to an eye-opening infographic from Mashable. Even more concerning, 74% of them use Google Street View to stake out a property before they strike.

There are steps that you can take to improve your home’s social safety. Mashable outlines five practical steps to take:

  1. Set your Facebook privacy settings to allow only your friends to see your content.
  2. Only add actual friends into your network.
  3. Refrain from announcing that you’ll be out of town for an extended period of time.
  4. Avoid posting photos that reveal your address or landmarks near your home.
  5. Don’t post photos of expensive items in your home.

At OSCPA’s Professional Issues Updates, led by President and CEO, Clarke Price, attendees watched a news clip showing unaware proud parents posting photos of their children to their social networks from their smartphones. Sounds harmless right? Actually, it’s quite the opposite if you don’t have the right settings on your smartphone to hide your location.

Unless your phone’s settings are configured to specifically to turn off the location on your photos, they will have data attached to them that will show the exact location the photo was taken – and by exact, I’m talking right down to the bedroom that you took your daughters photo in. (See my post on Geotagging: The hidden danger of photo sharing.)

Let us know how you use social media. Does this change or confirm your opinions of location sharing, and how so? Will you change any of your sharing habits?