Turn on Google multifactor authentication — now!

We’re all familiar with multifactor authentication, even if not everyone knows immediately that they are. Break the phrase down: “multi,” more than one; “factor,” necessary component; “authentication,” way of validating identity. Usually, multifactor systems combine “something you have” with “something you know,” or multiples of one or the other. For example:

  • Opening your house with a key is single-factor authentication: Something you have (the key).
  • Swiping your debit card is two-factor authentication: Something you have (the card) and something you know (the PIN).
  • Authorizing suspicious credit card transactions is often three or more factors of authentication: Your name, your credit card number, personal information questions (SSN, zip code, DOB, etc.), and a series of security questions (a large number of somethings you know).

Unfortunately, the biggest skeleton key in your life right now is most likely a single-factor authentication system: Not your bank website password, not your car key, not your Social Security Number, but your email password. Think about it for a moment: What do you use to sign up for accounts? Where would those accounts send password reset emails if you forgot your password? Exactly. If you’re like most people, your email account is the key to your entire life, and we’re talking more than just hijacking your account to send spam or send inappropriate tweets. These days, email access can get you into bank accounts, investment accounts, property deeds, passports, and everything else that could permanently ruin your life.

Now that I’ve scared you, let me help you. For starters, we’re going to assume you use Gmail for your email and thus Google accounts. If not, you’re SOL (especially if you use that company that rhymes with “mayo sell”), and you should think about switching. Sorry, them’s the chops. Now that I can assume you’re in the 21st century, let’s continue. (Not to say that no other email providers are in the 21st century. I acknowledge that they do, in fact, still exist now.)

Taken from Google’s blog post on the matter, the first step is visiting your Account Settings page. From this location, you’ll see a link to “Edit” your “2-step verification” — go ahead and click that.

At this point, Google will walk you through setting up multifactor authentication. You’ll be given the opportunity to generate and print backup codes, a good idea. These backup codes can be used in case you should lose access to your phone in the future (more on that later). You’ll also get to choose what phone (or phones) to use for verification, and be given download links for mobile apps. Take the time to read carefully and set up your account properly, because this is your personal security we’re talking about.

The next time you go to sign in to your Google accounts (Gmail, etc.), you’ll be prompted to enter a six digit code in addition to your password (the thing you know) — and here’s where the “something you have” aspect comes in. Depending on the settings you picked in Google’s wizard, you’ll either receive a text message, a phone call, or open the authentication app. The device receiving or generating that information is the “something you have,” and the code it enters (which Google also knows, on the other end) is proof of that fact. If you’re confident that the computer from which you’re logging in is secure, you can tell Google to remember you for 30 days, as well, which makes the additional layer of security almost invisible to you.

Setting up multi-factor authentication is a small additional step is a small step you can take yourself to ensure much greater security down the road. It may seem like a hassle every now and again when you need to enter an additional code to log in to your email, but then again, it would be painful to lose control over huge swaths of your life online, as well.

Technology Update: Windows 8, iPhone 5, iPad Mini & Android

So I’ve been missing in action for quite some time. Sorry about that, but hey we all have off months right? Anyway, during my time away several new developments have come about. The iPhone got bigger, the iPad got smaller, and Windows was completely reinvented. It’s quite the world we live in when almost 100% of consumer technology changes in a matter of months.

Windows 8

Whiners rejoice and the blogosphere is full of Windows 8 haters. I don’t think I’ve seen this many people claiming Microsoft falling since 1995. Nearly 20 years ago Microsoft changed the Windows interface and the technology world was claiming the sky was falling. Yet again people are misrepresenting change, and calling for MS to shut the doors and board up the… dare I say it… Windows.

Everything I own these days has an Apple logo on it and I’m proud to report Windows 8 is running great on my machine. I’ll admit that it’s distinctly different, and the learning curve can be a bit challenging. Honestly I don’t see how it couldn’t be. The PC is evolving and what it needed was an operating system capable of being used on the next generation PC. Windows 8 is exactly that, it allows the PC to change form and compete with smartphones and tablets.

First let me explain that Windows 8 is two distinctly different interfaces built into a single operating system. The “new” interface formerly known as Metro, was built to run what Microsoft calls Microsoft Store Apps. This interface is built for touch input and relies heavily on gesture based navigation. It was designed to run on ARM based devices and competes directly with the smartphone and tablet markets. Think about it this way: this interface was built to compete with the iPad and App store. Now it’s possible to buy devices that only run this interface. This version of Windows is called Windows 8 RT.

The full-blown version of Windows 8, the version most of us will use, is a second interface mode. This is called the desktop mode, essentially this mode works exactly the same way Windows 7 did. The biggest change in this mode is the loss of the start button, but a few third-party utilities already exist to put it back.

So, Microsoft has allowed PC manufactures to create new types of PCs. Some are tablet only, slate type devices, others are convertible PCs and some creative folks are building completely new form factors. Windows 8 has bred new life into PC hardware choices, something that the PC world desperately needs. It’s clearly the right choice and as new form factors arise savvy customers will embrace the idea that they can purchase a single device that serves the role of both laptop and tablet.

My assessment is that Windows 8 doesn’t suck! It does require a bit of trial and error, and they could have done a better job of merging the interfaces but it’s a great step in the right direction and you simply can’t beat it with a price point under $40.00.

iPhone 5

The thing that I liked most about my iPhone changed. I know it sounds trivial but I use my phone one-handed and I loved the form factor of the smaller screen. Having said that, the iPhone 5 launched with iOS6 and both lacked the quality I’ve come to expect from Apple. The first batch of iPhones were built quickly, and it showed. Wireless connectivity issues, screen problems, camera halos, and case imperfections were all reported with the initial release. Since then it appears that Apple slowed production and the quality increased, but the delivery times are horrid. Along with the hardware issues, iOS6 removed Google Maps and replaced it with a less than complete in-house map program.

My assessment this release is a black eye for Apple. The issues with the hardware have been resolved, iOS6 has had updates to correct several issues but it will be a long time before Apple maps can compare to Google Maps. The iPhone 5 is safe to buy, but it lacks the killer feature to make it stand out.

iPad Mini

The iPad Mini has a 7.9 inch screen making it larger than it’s competitors. The screen size and the power of the App Store make up the primary selling points for the iPad Mini. With a starting price point of $329 the device isn’t cheap but it’s not out of reach. This device offers teens and parents of teens an affordable option for a device that seems geared for education. While the device does not currently sport a retina display, I predict we will see it in the next version.

My assessment of this is that it makes a better gift than an iPod that will cost about as much. It’s an excellent device for students, and offers a nicer screen for media consumption. If you can wait to buy, I’d hold for the next model as I think they will improve the screen.

Android

Honestly I can’t do a proper assessment of Android, I simply don’t like the OS. What I can say is that my latest experience with the devices show me great improvements. The interface is clean, and what was once laggy is now fluid. Hands down Google Maps beats Apple maps so they have a winner with users needing directions. The killer app on Android for me would be Google Now.

Google Now is a predictive personal assistant. It utilizes Google data about you to offer up content that you’re likely to need at any given time. For example it “learns” your sports team preferences and will serve up the final score as games end. The killer part of the Google Now experience for me is that it comes with Google Maps. Google now understands how you travel and where you’re going. So for example if you have a meeting at 4 p.m., Google Now is smart enough to know you’ll be driving to the appointment. It scans traffic conditions and routes to your meeting destination and changes the reminder on your appointment to account for traffic conditions and travel time.

My assessment of Android is positive, it’s an excellent competitor to iOS and in some ways offers a superior experience. The issue of fragmentation within the Android device market is nearly the only flaw. If you’re a smart consumer and understand the product versions you can get an excellent device at a reasonable price.

As the holidays approach be sure to tune in and see my suggestions for this years hot tech tools and toys. This year we have some real winners!

Windows 8: What’s up?

Promising to be dramatically different, Windows 8 should hit the market later this year. The most obvious and debated change is the Metro UI. For those who need a bit of background, Metro (pictured right) is a new way of interacting with Windows applications. Rather than having a desktop, start menu, and static icons, Metro groups and presents smart icons. These icons display information that may be relevant to your day and offer you a touch-friendly way launching the app. Don’t worry quite yet, the tiles also work with a mouse so it’s usable even without a touch screen.

At first glance the interface seems boxy and somewhat clumsy, but in reality it’s a rather nice experience. The inclusion of smart tiles gives you a quick glance of information you need to know, and easy drill down access to the information you want to know. Still, even with the best of intentions change is hard and long-term Windows veterans will get frustrated trying to find things for some time. Those who use a Windows Phone, Xbox, or Zune marketplace will find the experience more in line with other Microsoft properties. To sum up the interface in a few words, it’s a touch-based consumer friendly version of Windows.

The Windows interface hasn’t changed much since Windows 95 and Microsoft needs to do something to give it an edge in the mobile market. Supplying a similar if not identical user experience across all platforms gives Microsoft a unique value proposition and reduces enterprise training time. While many would argue how horrible this change is, take a look back to the transition from 3.11 to Windows 95 and change is good. If this works Microsoft has managed to come from behind and achieve what Apple is shooting for, one interface for all devices.

But Microsoft hasn’t stopped with the Interface when so much more can be improved. They’ve added a slew of new features and performance enhancements. Performance enhancements include an optimized Windows Explorer, faster boot times, and an enhanced search. Feature enhancements include Windows To Go, Windows Live syncing, and the Microsoft Store.

While the Microsoft Store is an attempt to play catch up, Windows To Go and Windows Live Sync are real power features for Windows. Windows To Go allows you to copy your OS and settings to a USB thumb drive. You can then plug this drive into any Windows 8 machine, boot it up and work as if it were your own. From a consumer standpoint this is a real winner, for my CPA friends this would make busy season a lot less stressful! Windows Live Sync is similar as it allows you to sync your Windows settings and preferences to the cloud, then access those settings from another Windows 8 computer by simply logging in with your Windows Live ID. Unlike Windows To Go, Windows Live Sync only keeps and adjusts the basic Windows settings, it doesn’t have all of your data available.

Best of all for consumers, Microsoft has simplified the options. Windows 8 only comes in four flavors, but there are only two people care about. The two primary versions are Windows 8, and Windows 8 Pro. The differences are fairly straight forward: Windows 8 Pro includes Bit Locker (drive encryption) and the ability to boot from a virtual hard disk. For those who want to know the other two versions they are Windows Enterprise and Windows RT. Windows Enterprise is Windows Pro with an enterprise licensing scheme, and Windows RT is built for machines with ARM processors, or in “real terms” tablets.

Understanding that change is hard, and competition is high. Microsoft has done the right thing and priced the Windows 8 upgrade at $39.99. That’s significantly less than any other Windows upgrade. To sweeten the deal it can upgrade from Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 and offers you the ability to format the drive and do a clean install with the upgrade. If you’re forced to by a new PC between now and the Windows 8 release this fall, Microsoft will give you a coupon to receive the upgrade for $14.99.

So what do you think, is the price right for an upgrade?

Boycott Apple? Yeah that will work…

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Using some strange mind control technique Jacob has managed to convince me we should do a weekly TechieBytes video. Being Jacob’s nature he instantly hijacked the show notes and added tons on controversy. This week it appears that Jacob is on the #BoycottApple bandwagon and wants needs demands the world agree with him. My perspective is a little different, I don’t see where this is an Apple problem nor how they should be punished.

If you need a little background #BoycottApple is nothing new. We se this hashtag show up anytime any group takes issue with Apple. First it was the Foxconn factory conditions, and proper wages for employees. Now it’s hijacked by whining Google fanboys & fangirls who simply want a newer cooler phone. Don’t believe me check it out yourself, it seems every post includes an iPhone Android comparison and why Android is “so much better”.

Yes, these Google fans believe you should boycott Apple for winning a preliminary injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. No consideration to the fact that it’s Apples responsibility to do right by its stakeholders. No consideration that Apple didn’t create the system, but is simply playing the game as the rules dictate. Nor do they take into account that several companies have been suing Google for various infringements, and that Google itself funds several hardware venders to sue Apple for various related issues.

I completely understand being upset with the patent process. In my opinion the system is broken, it was designed to promote innovation not protect generic processes. Still it’s the system we have so why be angry or penalize those who utilize it. In basic terms don’t hate the player hate the game.

We’ll have more discussion on the new show this week, and most likely let you join in on the topic. Google did have some other cool stuff come out at IO and we’ll discuss that too. I’m sure Jacob will be kind enough to add to this post with show times and topics.

Don’t like my opinion, use the box below to show your outrage. If you agree you can comment too, but I understand if you don’t.

P.S. Kristen didn’t edit this one so please protect me when she kabooms about my errors.

The depressing truth

Many of you might have noticed a change in tone on the blog lately. My co-worker Jacob had this idea that controversial content gets noticed. Worse yet, rude and abrasive content is the best of breed. Not one to shy away from interesting experiences, I set him loose to create some less than appropriate content. Meanwhile, I went down the path of creating what seemed to be useful and productive content.

After a few posts and several weeks of downtime a few things stand out:

  1. Both types of content pulled in our normal readers
  2. Both types of content drew in new readers
  3. Jacob’s flavor of content had far more shares and reach

In a world where social shares equals curation, the idea that basic rants and absurdities are made more prominent than productive content both frightens and depresses me. It’s not that I find Jacob’s passion for railing against what he finds annoying, wrong. I simply question if his shock jock approach is really the best way to create a conversation. Is this the content we want our friends, family and co-workers to base decisions on?

Anyway, in reality I guess it’s just sour grapes. Jacob’s tone works because it’s entertaining. It’s unexpected and in some ways refreshing in its honesty. Perhaps that’s the difference in news and information. Even more, perhaps it’s the general attitude of content where we rely on the reader to add context?

The lesson in all this for me? Don’t stop taking risks. I most likely won’t have the ability to match Jacob’s tone and annoyance with products, but I won’t be stifling him either. Much like the radio, if you don’t like it then you don’t have to read it. If you do, then enjoy.

Do you want to hear more rants from Jacob? Let us know in the comment section below.

Google Docs (Sharing with teams)

It’s been quite a while since my last post, but in that time I hope you had a chance to try out Google Docs. Perhaps you’ve even taken the time to check out Google Drive. In this session I’ll show you some of the ways you can use Google docs to share, edit, and collaborate.

Perhaps the most common use for Google Docs is to allow others to review and edit documents you’ve created.

For example, in our office we have an edit and review process for our e-newsletter. One or more people write stories that are sent to an editor and consolidated. From there the e-newsletter is attached to an email and routed to several people for review. Each person reviews and supplies edits and returns the document to the editor. The editor then manages and merges these changes. Simple enough but time-consuming none the less.

When I write content, I create a draft (roughness depending on mood) share it with my editor and my content experts. Content experts can modify the live document, and the editor can work within the same document. What makes it even better is they can all be working on it at the same time if they choose.

The biggest difference is that many documents become one document. So how’s it done?

First click the share button in the top right corner:

This will open the sharing box:


Use the “Add people” box to add the person you want to share with. Once a person is added you can use the drop down to the right of their name to select permissions for them. In this case I want to allow others the ability to edit the document. When you’ve added the people you want to share with, click done. This sets the permissions on the document, sends them an email with a link, and adds the document to their Google Docs for editing.

If someone you’ve shared with accesses the document the same time that you do you will see a notification under the share button at the top right of the page. Any number of participants can access the document and make edits simultaneously.

You can also see where other users are editing the document. Below you can see that I’m editing the text highlighted in grey, as another user is editing the text highlighted in pink.

Granted the system isn’t perfect, at some point somebody will overwrite, or delete something you wanted to keep. Google Docs offers a solution for this as well. Revision history is located under the file menu and gives you access to all document revisions.

The Problem with Pinterest

Like the inimitable fuzzy creatures of a similar alliteration, users of the social networking site Pinterest are reproducing like, err, rabbits. Just how fast is the little pinboard that could growing? According to never-wrong Wikipedia, in March of 2012 it surpassed LinkedIn and something called Tagged to become the third largest in the world.

I never really got it, though, at least, until recently. But I’m still not sure I get it. I mean, I get it in theory — Pinterest allows visual organization of items into categories, useful for storing, say, recipes, paint colors, carpet swatches, wristwatches, renovation ideas, or photographic inspiration — I don’t get it in practice and implementation.

Upon perusing the website for the first time, I was struck by a veritable avalanche of eye shadows, half-naked men, lipsticks, wedding rings, platitudes, eye shadows, wedding rings, half-naked men, platitudes, eye shadows, eye shadows, platitudes, lipsticks, half-naked men, platitudes, and eye shadows. I know the site’s demographic is mainly women (85% feels like the right number, although I’m too lazy even while typing this to source that for you or verify it in any way, shape, or form — think with your gut, not with your brain!), but it felt like I had stumbled onto a digital 14 year-old girl’s bulletin board. Surely the female form must have more varied interests than this. (But really, seriously.)

After further visits with and persuasion from female associations, I saw the merit of visually organizing food ideas, clothing ideas, and decorating ideas, and signed up an account.

And then I saw Pinterest’s dark, seedy underbelly.

  1. The vast majority of Pinterest users seem to be functionally illiterate. No, cupcakes are not Men’s Apparel. Neither are women’s engagement rings. Neither are pictures of naked men — technically, they don’t belong under any kind of apparel. Similarly, mascara does not belong under Cars, baby pictures are not a form of Travel, and god damn it, stop posting pictures of naked men and cupcakes everywhere.
  2. Pinterest forces a kindergarten-like atmosphere. You see, being mean or seeming intolerant are bannable offenses on the website.
  3. The site offers no way to moderate or punish users who pay no attention to the site’s organizational structure.

These three factors combine to create a sort of “wild west of kindercare.” You see, there’s kind of an unspoken rule of the Internet: Either your website is an unmoderated wasteland, or a self-moderating civilization, or a heavily-moderated fascist state. Pinterest tries to combine aspects of all three, and, I think, is suffering from a terrible disease from it.

So please, new found place for mascara pictures and also occasionally my well-organized recipes, pick a path and stick with it. Because I’m tired of the little girls running around in my room.

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