Up and Running!

Well, my new blog site is up and running finally! There are many things I’ll be discussing over the next several months. Before we go too far though, I’d like you to tell me your thoughts about the new software. Let me know your questions and concerns. I’ll be covering the method for subscribing to the blog tomorrow. Remember that all the old comments and subscriptions are gone—they simply didn’t make it from the old blog software. Please let me know what you think at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

What to Check When You Review My New Blog Setup

A number of people have written to ask specifically what to check when they look at the new blog setup. Here are the issues I’m most concerned about now as I get the configuration done:

 

  • Does the blog size well when you use your device? I’m especially concerned about how the blog looks in smartphones and tablets, but it has to look great on a PC too.
  • Is the text easy to read?
  • Does the blog size well when you make the text smaller or larger to meet your specific viewing needs?
  • Are the features working well? For example, when you perform a search or click on a tag to view related articles, are you seeing what you expected?
  • Do the colors work well for you? I’m especially interested in hearing about the highlighting on features like the calendar.
  • Are you seeing anything you didn’t think you’d see?


I’m also interested in your opinion about the new software. How does it improve on the experience you had with the old software? What do you miss about the old software? Does the blog seem to work faster or slower? Anything you can tell me about the content, appearance, or performance of the new software would be helpful. This the best time for me to make required tweaks. Please be sure to contact me with your concerns at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Blog Questions

A number of people have written with questions about the blog update. A lot of these questions will be answered later. Please keep the questions coming because they help me ensure that the new blog will meet your needs.

The one pressing question is about things people have noticed are missing. There are two items that won’t move to the new blog: subscriptions and comments. The comments are pretty much gone unless people want to make them all over again. However, the subscriptions will be easy enough to make again. I’ll post instructions for you after the blog is completely changed over. Please don’t create a new subscription until after I post instructions for you.

I’m adding the tags back in as I move the posts. That’s one of the reasons that the move is taking so long. The tags have to be added by hand (as do the graphics). As of today I’ve moved 293 posts, so there are only 376 more to go !

Thank you again for your patience. This move really shouldn’t have been so hard, but that’s how things go sometimes.


UPDATE 6/24

There are other problems that you’ll notice with the posts that I’ve moved. The most noticeable is that the source code in my posts isn’t moving correctly. Actually, it appears pretty much unusable. The information is there, but you’re going to have to look hard to use it. I’m looking into WordPress compatible source code add-ins to make the source code look nicer. If someone has experience in this area, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I’d prefer to see an example of the add-in output if you have one to provide.

Another issue has been tables. I think that all of the tables are currently usable, but please let me know if you spot something that doesn’t look quite right and I’ll do my best to fix it.

Blog is Moving!

Hi Everyone,

Never in my life did I imagine that moving my blog to the new software would take so long or come with so many hurdles. However, the time has come to make the move. Please be patient over the next few days as I continue to move posts from one location to the other. Eventually, you’ll find the new software running on the current blog URL and will be able to access it just as you always have. In the meantime, if you truly can’t wait to play with the new software, you can check it out at: http://blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/.

So yes, to answer all your queries, I am aware that the old blog is going away because it’s finding a new home . Please hold your questions for now. The new site setup requires tweaking, but the information you find on it is content complete. After the move, I’ll be uploading posts asking for your input on the new setup. For now, please do test the new software with your cellphone, tablet, and PC. It should run well on any device you choose. The new software is also more accessible and should be considerably easier to read.

Thank you again for all your support. This blog wouldn’t exist without you!

John

Power Words

It has been two and a half years since I wrote my Not Mere Words post where I explored nuances of meaning in word choice. Since that time, a number of readers have questioned whether word choice can really mean that big of a difference. When it comes to technical documentation, nuance is incredibly important. In fact, the reason you see so much jargon in technical documentation is to ensure clarity of meaning. Yes, you must learn what the jargon means, but the jargon usually has just one meaning, which means the use of that term is clearer than using other words to convey the same thought.

However, words also have a certain power of their own. What you say and when you say it have social implications that extend to books and to the pieces you write. Masters of fiction writing use specific terms to convey a character’s feelings, outlook on life, or point of origin. Technical writers often use specific terms to add emotional impact to what would otherwise be a relatively dry form of writing. So, it was with great interest that I recently read 19 Words That Will Make People Like You More. The article simply affirmed what I already knew—that saying things like “You’re welcome!” rather than an alternative (such as “No problem”) have significant meaning to those that hear them.

The words you choose both in personal conversation and in writing reflect who you are as a person. A discerning person can tell a lot about you just by the words you choose and how you use them. More importantly, the terms you use can affect you as a person. Saying “I can”, even when you’re certain that it’s more accurate to say “I can’t”, could actually change the situation from one of failure to one of success. Another interesting article on word choice is 10 Words That Can Make You More Powerful.

As always, the reason you use specific words is to affect those around you. Knowing that you can perform a task isn’t the problem, getting someone else to realize it is. Likewise, generating interest in a topic that is dear to you (and nearly unknown to everyone else) requires careful use of terms. Body language doesn’t translate through to writing, so word choice becomes your only tool for changing the opinion of others so that they see your point-of-view.

All this leads to the same conclusion that I made in my Not Mere Words post. In order to be successful in helping others see your perspective in person and in writing, you need to have a wide variety of words at your fingertips and understand the nuance of those words. It’s not just shades of meaning, but also how those words affect those who hear them. Power words are actually just ordinary words used in a specific manner. Let me know your thoughts about word selection at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Your Security is an Illusion

I receive a number of queries about security from administrators and users every month, and many of these questions have links to all sorts of security issues that have occurred recently—everything from National Security Agency (NSA) spying to the Target security breach (incidentally, a number of other businesses have been attacked in the same manner). The fact of the matter is that books such as Administering Windows Server 2008 Server Core, Microsoft Windows Command Line Administration Instant Reference, and Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference have been telling you all along that security is a matter of vigilance—that software will never do the job alone. Even so, readers keep sending requests for some sort of magic bullet that will allay all their fears and make the task of security automatic.

Maintaining a reasonably secure system is a matter of observing personal, data, and system-wide best practices. Many other authors have listed these best practices in the past, but here are some of the techniques that people fail to use most often:

 

  • Use complex passwords that are easy to remember so you don’t need to write them down—consider using a passphrase whenever possible.
  • Change your password reasonably often and don’t rely on the same set of passwords all the time.
  • Keep your passwords secret so that no one else can abuse them.
  • Encrypt your data.
  • Perform local data backups regularly.
  • Ensure your applications remain updated with the latest security fixes.
  • Update your system as needed to ensure it provides a full set of modern security features.
  • Install security applications that check the incoming and outgoing flow of data, and block anything that looks remotely dangerous.
  • Check your system regularly for any files, folders, software, or other items that look out of place.


This list doesn’t even include some of the common user foibles, such as opening e-mail from parties they don’t know. In addition, none of these techniques are automated. You have to perform the manually in order to get the benefits they provide. Yes, it’s true that some of the techniques are automated once you start them, but you still have to start them. For example, installing security software will automatically monitor the data flow on your system, but you still have to install the security software manually.

Even with all of these security measures in place, someone who is truly determined can break into your system. You should simply count on it happening at some point, even if you’re incredibly careful. When a security breach does occur, you need to have a contingency plan in place.

Any good contingency plan will include a method of evaluating the damage caused by the security breach. You need to know just what was compromised and what the fallout of the compromise will be. Even individuals experience fallout from security breaches, such as identity theft. Once the damage is evaluated, you need a method for fixing the problems it has caused. In some cases, you may actually have to format the drive and start from scratch, which is where that data backup is going to become critical.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to security. Over the years I’ve searched, in vain, for a magic bullet and it isn’t even possible to conceive of one. Therefore, it’s the user and administrator who are best prepared for the eventuality of spying and security breaches that are in the best position to handle it later. Let me know your thoughts on security at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Every Move You Make, Every Breath You Take, They’ll be Tracking You!

I read a ComputerWorld article recently entitled, “So what’s wrong with being tracked by advertisers?” that really makes me uncomfortable. The author describes scenarios whereby advertisers could track your every move—up to and including your bathroom habits. Such complete tracking doesn’t seem doable today, but the author’s arguments really do make such tracking seem like a reality that is about to happen. Of course, the question that comes to my mind immediately is whether the author is sincere in stating that only advertisers should be able to perform tracking at this level. It’s naive to think that governments and others won’t use the same technology to their advantage. For example, consider the crook who tracks your movements and holds you up immediately after you cash a check or obtain some other source of money to maximize their haul.

The article is eye opening because apparently, some companies are already involved in this behavior to some extent. My Tracks seems like an interesting app for your smartphone until you begin thinking about the implications. Any signal sent out by any device is capable of being intercepted by anyone, including that person down the street who makes you feel really uncomfortable. It makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would install such an app in the first place.

Don’t get the idea that smartphones and other sources of electronic emission are the only potential tracking devices. Your computer makes it possible for someone to create a thorough profile of your behaviors and to track your activities to a point that you’d probably find unbelievable. Most people realize that browsers use cookies to track them, but you’re open to tracking in so many other ways. The InfoWorld article, “Anonymous is not anonymous” makes it clear that the best attempts to hide your online activities are completely worthless. The movie view of the “ghost hacker” is a myth today (if it ever existed at all).

It isn’t just computers either. The rewards card that your supermarket or drugstore issues likely has a Radio Frequency IDentifier (RFID) tag in it that makes it possible to track your precise movements through the store. The fact that RFID is passive technology makes it particularly onerous because you have absolutely no control over its use.

People have to start thinking about securing their privacy in the same way that others think about peering into their every activity. A recent article, “Hacked wireless baby monitor lets pervert spy on and cuss at baby girl” shows just how far other people are willing to go to pry into your life and turn it upside down. You can read about other sorts of appliance-based spying in the article, “Your Home Appliances May be Spying on You.” This sort of activity happens regularly now. Someone may be spying on you right now through your home security system if it contains any wireless elements at all. More importantly, you really do need to consider what you’re giving up by losing your privacy. A recent article entitled, “Noonan: What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy” provides great food for thought on the issue.

I don’t mean this article as a scare tactic. What I want to do is arm you to think about your privacy and security in light of the gadgets that you use. My post, An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy, received quite a bit of attention and I received more than a few emails about it. Some people felt that I was making up some of the issues I discussed in that article. It truly is hard to believe that things have become so bad, so fast. However, your privacy is in your own hands. If you want to keep a secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. Likewise, if you don’t want someone to know your location, leave your cellphone at home. If you don’t want someone to spy on you, make sure your home security system doesn’t have any outside connections or rely on wireless communication. Yes, the solution to the problem is inconvenient and frustrating, but that’s the only solution you truly have. Let me know your thoughts about tracking at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Social Media Overload?

Because of my involvement in the computer industry, I’m always interested in social, health, monetary, and other effects of using technology. As with any other tool (and technology is a kind of tool), it’s possible to misuse computers and the software that controls them. In this case, I’m talking about any sort of device with a chip inside, including tablets and smartphones. In fact, I’m even including your television and radio here. Every electronic device you own is a kind of tool. Think about it, the main reason to listen to radio is to help you relax or to inform you in some way. When people stop viewing technology as a tool and start viewing it as a requirement for living, the technology becomes a crutch and the person becomes addicted.

I read a post the other day by someone who is obviously addicted to her technology. I found the article, “Social Media Overload” enlightening because it presents a perspective of social media from someone who is younger than me and has likely grown up with the technology. The author talks about having thousands of online friends. Of course, my question is whether it’s possible to actually know anything substantial about thousands of people. There are only around 400 people in our small town and I admit to not knowing them all; actually knowing thousands of people seems quite impossible. In fact, it’s hard to know whether some of these people even exist or they’re the figment of someone’s imagination. Using social media in this way seems to favor quantity over quality, where the quality would be incredibly low.  It makes me wonder what has happened to the quality relationship of the past.

The part of the post that I found most interesting was the fact that she recommends providing a means to link all of the social media together so that you could view and update all of your information from a central location. The obvious problem seems to elude her—recognizing that the tool has taken over the master and that the master is now the slave of the tool. When you start having to think of ways to manage all of the tools in your inventory, rather than using those tools to perform useful work, the tools have become a problem. It really is time to clear away a bit of the junk so that you can become productive again. A better solution might be to reduce the number of social media in which she participates so that the tool again becomes a tool.

I do participate in social media. I’m currently on LinkedIn because it’s a professional network and I feel it’s a good way to get my resume out in public view. Sometimes I provide updates about my current projects. Otherwise, I really don’t see a good reason to use social media when personal contact is so much better. You have to ask yourself whether you’re in charge of your social media or whether the social media is in charge of you.

Like any professional, I put my tools away on occasion and go on vacation. It’s important to rest from your labors so that you can better enjoy them when you do work. I’ve written about my philosophy toward computing in Learning to Unplug. However, it’s important to think about how other professionals use tools when thinking about social media or anything else to do with computers for that matter. Can you imagine a surgeon taking scalpels and performing impromptu surgeries while on vacation? What would you think of a carpenter who takes hammer and nails absolutely everywhere? After all, you never know when you might want to pound a nail or two. This is how I view people who are so addicted to their technology that they can never unplug from it. If you can’t put your technology aside long enough to rest, then you’re addicted and need to do something about it.

How do you view computing, especially when it comes to social media? Has your computing device (no matter what that device might be) come to rule over you? Let me know your thoughts on digital addiction at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy

We live in a social world. Knowing a bit of something about someone has always carried with it a certain level of perceived power. The more private that something is, the more power the monitoring entity thinks is at stake. The fact that someone is monitoring someone else at all times shouldn’t surprise you at all. People are nosy, as a result, organizations are nosy as well. Curiosity is a basic factor in our makeup.

I’ve written about the issues regarding social media before. In fact, I made a specific post about the dangers of online social media in my Social Networking Traps post. Of course, none of this means that I think people or organizations are correct in monitoring others. What I’m saying is that the monitoring will occur whether it’s correct or not, legal or not. Yes, we could (and should) pass laws to reduce any organization’s (including the government’s) ability to use knowledge gained during unauthorized snooping against us, but the fact is that the snooping will continue unabated until there are no humans left to snoop.

It isn’t as if any of this is new. Reading history (any history) shows that people, organizations, and governments have snooped for all of recorded history. In a best case scenario, the snooping was offset by the institution of laws that limit the use of snooping. However, even then, some level of snooping has always been allowed. Legal snooping whitewashes the act and makes it appear legitimate, but in reality, it’s still snooping.

Of course, some snooping has paid off in the form of reduced crime or possibly the saving of someone’s dignity, but by and large snooping does more harm than good. Unfortunately, the damage done by snooping will continue. Whether it’s the government prying into our affairs or a neighbor who is keen on hearing about an indiscretion, someone will be monitoring you at all times.

There is one perfect answer to all this. If you want to keep something secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. People are unlikely to follow the advice. We’re social and we just have to tell someone. The second a secret, any secret, leaves our lips, the expectation of privacy should go down. The more people we tell (or are told by those we tell), the less secret something becomes until there is no expectation of privacy at all.

In this day of computers that can record anything perfectly and electronics that can snoop anywhere, it’s reasonable to expect that the government (or some other organization) is snooping on you. What will need to happen is that we’ll have to limit the ability of organizations to use the information obtained from snooping to harm others. The snooping will take place, but we can make it harder to use that information in a destructive manner.

Technology has brought us a considerable number of positives—everything from longer lives to being able to use those lives more fully. However, as users of technology, we have to keep in mind that it has always been easier to destroy than to create. The very technology that enables us to do so many interesting things is just as easily turned against us. What we need to do now is exercise vigilance and use technology wisely. Just as you wouldn’t stick your hand in a fire on the stove, but would use that same fire to cook your food, you need to use technology for the positive purposes for which it was designed. Let me know your thoughts on snooping at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Social Networking Traps

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld entitled, “‘Girls Around Me’ shows a dark side of social networks.” It isn’t the first time that FourSquare and Facebook have gotten press for their lack of respect for user privacy and it won’t be the last. Even the social network I use, LinkedIn, has received more than a few black eyes in the privacy arena. Any time you engage in any sort of social network, everything that you upload is going to be treated as someone’s personal data source. You have no choice about it. Absolutely everything you upload, from your name and picture, to the last time you updated the list of things you’re interested in, will be used by someone for some purpose other than the one you envisioned—count on it!

Yes, these social networks help you maintain your relationships with friends and they do provide a means of creating professional networks with others. However, if you think that these companies are running these social networking sites out of the goodness of their hearts, think again. These companies run these sites to obtain any personal information about you that they can. The information is used to generate demographics, to spam your inbox with e-mail you never wanted, and to keep outsiders informed about your activities. If you engage in any sort of social networking, someone is spying on you and they’re doing it with the blessing of the company that hosts your page. In short, if you don’t want someone misusing a piece of your information, keep it to yourself because these organizations have no self-control in misusing your information.

What does surprise me is that anyone things that this old news is even worth printing. Do people not understand that the naked pictures they posted of themselves at an illegal party will have long lasting effects? If you think that there is any help coming from the government, think again. In the US, at least, there isn’t any chance whatsoever that the government will take a stand on employers and others probing every dark secret you’ve ever posted. Lest you think that you can take a stand and simply not allow information to your information, think again. People have gotten fired for refusing to share their secrets. Anything you post also lasts forever, like some sort of terrifying tattoo that you can’t scrub clean. I’ve used special search engines like the Wayback Machine to dig up material that the author was certain was scrubbed from the Internet forever. Get used to the idea that once you upload a picture, make a statement, or do something else weird on the Internet, the material is going to last forever whether you want it to or not and someone is going to dig it up to embarrass (or harass) you at the most inconvenient moment.

I’ve used social networking professionally. It helps me make contacts with other professionals so that I can get consulting or editing jobs. With this in mind, I keep my posts professional. I try not to post anything I think could be embarrassing later. Obviously, I’ve made mistakes, just like everyone does, but nothing of a gross nature. Still, these little errors have crept up in the past when talking with others. It begins innocently enough…but you said, “So and So” on your LinkedIn page. Didn’t you really mean that? As much as a misstatement makes me shuffle in my seat, I can only imagine the terror of someone finding a picture that was supposed to be viewed by friends alone.

The short version of all this is that you need to use social networking carefully. Share only what you want people to see forever. Write your posts and save them as drafts—let them sit a day or two before you actually publish them. Don’t think that your Web site or blog are safe either; both are often used as weapons against their authors by unscrupulous people. It’s a new world out there. Social networking as made it possible for more people to find out more information about you faster than ever before. The life you ruin could be your own! Let me know your viewpoint on social networking and privacy at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.