Maybe the Wii is good excercise after all.

At least it is when you play it like this.

10 million reasons to protect your web passwords – Simple security tips anyone can use

Password management and computer securityFive hundred bucks. That’s roughly what the username and password you use to log in to your bank website are worth on the open market, according to a new study from Panda Labs. The exact amount will depend on your actual bank balance, but even security credentials for someone with the embarrassingly low balance of my account would be worth about $80.

But you keep your bank username and password safe, right? So you don’t have to worry, right? Well, maybe you do after all.

The odds of your bank website being hacked are extraordinarily low. But most people reuse the same login info on other sites they visit – and the odds of one of those sites getting hacked is much higher. As an example, the website for mobile app maker Trapster.com was hacked recently and now the security information of over 10 million users may be at risk.

So you might have heard that the solution is to use a different username and password for every site you sign up for, and to use passwords that include numbers and symbols. The problem with that advice is that while it is effective, it’s not terribly practical. With more and more sites offering content and features only for members, who can remember a different username and password for every site? So some people write their info down – but what if you want to log in from a different computer, or even a mobile device like an iPhone and you don’t have your note handy?

That’s where password management services like LastPass come in. These services integrate into your browser and manage all your passwords for you, so you don’t have to remember a thing.

When you go to register for a new site, LastPass will generate a random password for that site and store it in a secure list. When you go back to that site, the program will automatically log you back in to that site so you don’t have to remember a thing. And when you’re working on a different computer without the program installed on it, you can visit the LastPass’ secure website where you can login and find a list of your security info so you can use it wherever you are. There are even iPhone and Android apps so you can bring your security info on the road with you.

Though it is not the only password manager program out there, at $1 per month for the premium version, LastPass is one of the best values you will find. And if you are concerned about your online security – and you should be – it is a small price to pay for the peace of mind it provides.

The killer Windows 8 problem that no one is talking about … yet.

Windows 8 new 'Modern UI Interface' desktop layout

Windows 8 new ‘Modern UI Interface’ desktop layout

Much has been made of the Windows 8 Metro Modern UI Style interface and the problems some users are having with it – especially in a desktop computer environment.† Even on the tablet side, where opinion generally seems to be more positive, there are concerns about the way Microsoft is rolling the software out – and specifically the confusion the two different versions will likely cause.

Up to this point I’ve been a pretty loud supporter of the new operating system anyway. I installed the consumer preview on a Samsung ultrabook†and that process went fairly smoothly, with only a few snags (that are to be expected in any operating system upgrade). I played with the new interface and actually liked it – even on a laptop.

But then I realized how tightly integrated the new OS is with Windows Live† – and that’s when the whole thing started to go right off the rails.

The Windows Live service is used†to log you in to your computer in Windows 8 (in most configurations) which is useful since Windows 8 is very tightly integrated with related, online Microsoft services like Skydrive†(for online†file storage)†and Xbox Live.

If you turned on a computer for the first time this week you’ve likely never set up a Windows Live account, and creating a new one goes pretty smoothly. If, however, you’ve ever used any kind of Microsoft product or online service you likely already have a Live account. And if you can’t remember your password, or if – God forbid – you want to update your info, here’s where things start to go south.

The system is built†to automatically remind you of your credentials or allow you to update info. But it doesn’t work. A quick search of the Microsoft Answers site shows dozens of unsolved support requests from people who are locked†out of their accounts after trying to†perform basic administrative tasks.

Windows Live broken admin systemFor example, the email verification system is broken. If you want to update your email account, the system does allow you to do that.†But then it tries to prove that you are the owner of the email account.† Verification emails sometimes get sent, but often the links they contain†do not work.†Attempts to †resend the links sometimes work, but after a few†tries the account locks you out, telling you the system is not able to send emails.

So now you’re locked out of your account because without being able to verify your email account, you’re not able to do any of the administrative functions on your account –†like update your profile information or change your email account back to something else.

And here’s where it gets really good. The Microsoft support sites require†you to be logged in to post requests for help. But you can’t log in, because it won’t let you in until you verify your email account. Which is what you’re there to get help for. Which is when your head explodes.

Microsoft is not designed to offer tech support to personal users, so at this point you’re pretty much screwed. Searching for answers reveals dozens of people with similar problems, but virtually no answers, and†surprisingly few people who even have suggestions.

And all this, keep in mind, BEFORE Windows 8 is even officially launched. Just try imagine the mess this will be when use of Windows Live goes up exponentially and the system gets crushed by millions of new users who install Windows 8 and then start logging in to those accounts.

For me, this has been enough to send me scurrying back to Windows 7, where I will stay for the foreseeable future. This experience has turned me from an excited early adopter, to someone who will wait quite a while after the launch to try the new version again. I’ll be happy to wait until Microsoft fixes Live before I make that mistake again.

A new security risk, and how you can protect yourself.

JavaA serious security risk has been found that uses the Java plugin of your browser to give hackers access to the computers of unsuspecting web surfers.

Tech news site The Register reports:

A new browser-based exploit for a Java vulnerability that allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on client systems has been spotted in the wild Ė and because of Oracle’s Java patch schedule, it may be some time before a fix becomes widely available.

What this means is that hackers can exploit this vulnerability by creating a †web page that can force your computer to download and run a program without your knowledge – including keyloggers or other types of malware.

And since Java has said they can’t update the program to fix the problem in the short term, you should disable the Java plugin on your browser until they do.

To do that:

  • In Firefox: Press Firefox button -> Add-ons, go to Plugins and click the “Disable” button next to anything named “Java”.
  • In Chrome: Type in: “chrome://plugins/” into the address bar (no speech marks). Scroll down to Java and click disable.
  • In Opera: Type in “opera:plugins” into the address bar (no speech marks). Scroll down to:
    • Java(TM) Platform <click on> Disable.
    • Java Deployment Toolkit <click on> Disable.
  • In Internet Explorer: Go to Tools -> Manage add-ons -> Toolbars and Extensions. At the bottom, show: All add-ons. Find anything under Sun Microsystems or named “Java”/”Deployment Toolkit” and right-click -> Disable it.

Apple’s legal victory over Samsung – and consumers

Rotten apple by _Tawcan, on FlickrApple was awarded over $1 billion in damages today in a landmark legal decision that was an almost complete loss for Samsung that could leave the company struggling to survive. And though the case could mean the end for Samsung, it will likely leave consumers as the real losers.

A federal jury in San Jose, California, ruled that Samsung infringed on several Apple patents and awarded the iDevice maker over $1 billion in damages. According to USA Today, the ruling is the largest surviving verdict in patent history. (Two larger verdicts were reversed, according to Stanford University law professor Mark Lemley).

Inexplicably, the jury upheld Apple’s patents on their ‘home’ screen layout, the pinch and zoom tap gesture, rounded corners on a rectangular shape (!!!), and even the screen bounceback. Thankfully, Apple did not have the presence of mind to patent the power button since presumably they could also have prevented other manufacturers from being able to ever have their devices turned on.

Analysts were quick to suggest that Apple’s next move will likely be to have the sale of the infringing Samsung devices banned in the US.

The statement issued by Samsung argues the same point:

ďTodayís verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies…

It seems clear to me that this case is just one more example of a patent system that does not protect innovation but instead rewards companies with better legal representation. Intellectual property law has clearly turned the corner. It no longer protects innovators, but instead rewards those who can best game the system.

This decision, and others like it, will crush innovation. It will bankrupt hard-working businesses. It will reinforce a legal framework where expensive representation is vastly more important than the facts, and set a precedent that will keep justice from having any relevance in future cases.

So why should consumers care – the vast majority of whom just want to buy a phone that looks good and works well?

Because I believe Samsung is right when it argues that it will mean less choice, higher prices, a slower pace of innovation and fewer companies willing to even venture into realms where big, well-represented companies are established.

And because hard work and good ideas are supposed to be rewarded in business, not just better lawyers.

Canadian net neutrality debate misses the point (so far).

The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) will wade this week into the muddy waters of net neutrality. The familiar voices of industry and privacy/tech advocates have started the predictable debate, but it seems that – in true Canadian fashion – both sides are missing the boat.

Canadian Debate heats up

Canadian Debate heats up

Net neutrality is, at its heart, a debate about whether or not Internet service providers (ISPs) should be able to control its customers’ Internet usage, setting limits on how much of certain activities are allowed, and even prioritize sites or ads that come from sponsors of the ISP.

The debate has raged in the US for a few years now (see the condensed version here) but has only heated up earnest recently in Canada.

The debate has become increasingly shrill on both sides, with ISPs winning the disingenuous rhetoric award thus far. In fact, as Michael Geist accurately points out, industry is even trying to claim throttling is required for their very survival – and doing so after recently claiming that throttling of this nature is not even possible.

What is unclear to me about this debate is why the loudest voice from both sides isn’t simple disclosure.

I use the Internet at home to stream HD movies from Xbox live, to backup several gigabytes worth of data, to play video games – collectively making me easily the biggest consumer of bandwidth on my block. So why shouldn’t I pay more than others using the same service, but using it less?

If my ISP wants to throttle how much of their bandwidth I hog, why shouldn’t they be able to do so?

But if they’re going to charge me more or limit my access, they better damn well tell me before I ever sign a contract or get a bill from them. Full disclosure, in language that even the worst luddite can understand, should be an ironclad requirement of allowing any of these measures.

If my ISP tells me they’re going to cut me off at 5Gb of downloads a month, that’s fine – I’ll find a new one. If they want to charge me more because I am such a hog, that’s great – I’ll look around to see if there is a cheaper option for me.

But the cornerstone of this policy has to be openness. The first time an ISP tries to sneak in a restriction or an extra fee, there must be harsh and immediate consequences.

In a debate that is becoming increasingly heated and polarizing, this seems to me to be a solution that should please both sides.

Is app convergence the next major tech trend?

I stumbled across two, unrelated services that seem to be harbingers of one of the biggest tech trends in the next few years.

Digsby - social media and communications convergence

Digsby – social media and communications convergence

The first is an app called Digsby that is a handy little tool that looks a lot like a standard instant messenger (IM) interface. What makes it unique is the fact that it integrates MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo and others. I’ve seen that much before, but this great little tool also monitors social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. It even allows you to monitor Gmail, Hotmail and other email accounts – including standard pop3 or imap accounts.

I’ve got accounts set up on most of these services, so people can pretty much reach me any way they want, now. Surprisingly, despite all this, my best efforts, and my abrasive personality, I still have people who want to call me. For that, I’ve got a home phone, a business phone, a personal cell phone and a work cell.

Which is where Google Voice comes in. With the new GV service you get one local number that you can answer on any of those phones. The service is still in development, but early reviews are suggesting that, aside from a few bugs, it works pretty much as advertised.

The staggered and uneven transition from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter – even among those who aren’t especially tech savvy – makes a pretty good case for these kinds of convergence apps. More and more services are being made available, quite often for free, and people seem more inclined than ever to give them a try.

But they’re not all moving to the same place, or at the same pace. So while I might be on Facebook, I’ve left behind friends at MySpace – and some colleagues on LinkedIn may still not be using Twitter.

As more services emerge offering slightly different features, the number of accounts and websites that I need (want, I suppose) to monitor is growing. The ability to communicate regardless of the sites and tools my friends and colleagues use is a very attractive one.

The next big thing? Maybe.

A very handy group of tools and services? Definitely.

I now understand Apple a little better (but I like it even less)

Apple: Sure hard to loveI confess to being a Windows person since ver 3.0 (1990!) but the scarcity of Windows Mobile devices (in Canada, anyway) has pushed me to consider going over to the dark side. I finally broke down and went to the only Apple store in our city (Edmonton) where the store manager told me that to buy a phone I would need to make an appointment. Though it was only 7pm they were not able to book an appointment until the next day.

So I have to ask: is this the absolute height of arrogance, or am I entirely off base? Is this really the way this company is run?

Now I’ve heard the arguments in favour of Apple products in the past, and though I disagreed with them I at least understood them. What has always made me wonder about the adulation some people show the Apple corporate machine is the disregard Apple seems to show their customers.

I’m still not sure if I’ll go back and try an iPhone, but there’s no question Apple makes themselves hard to love.

Apple, net neutrality, now Starbucks. Is the internet at risk of becoming a vast wilderness where all anyone can see is the view from the highway?

Starbucks' inadvertantly wades into the net neutrality debate.I have to confess, Iíve sometimes lumped the net neutrality folks in with the tinfoil hat crowd. At first I wasnít convinced net neutrality was really that big of a deal, and even if it was, I generally give corporations more credit than most who comment on these issues online.

But now Iím not so sure.

With Starbuckís announcement earlier this week of a proprietary digital network available in their stores, Iím thinking it might be time to fire up my own tinfoil hat.

Donít get me wrong, I think Starbuckís network is a great offering for its customers, but it further fragments an internet that is becoming more and more limiting.

If you own an iPhone or an iPad, and especially if you develop for them, youíve already seen how limiting these platforms are. If you donít completely adhere to all of Appleís often arbitrary developer rules (and sometimes even if you do) youíll end up with an app that languishes in the wilderness because itís not allowed in the app store. As a user of these devices, obviously you can use safari to go anywhere on the web, but I can count on one hand the number of users I know who use the devices that way.

Then thereís Googleís recent loss to the telecoscollaboration with Verizon in the US on wireless internet. Sure they came out swinging in defense of an open, unbridled internet Ė but only if you stick to wired networks and donít venture out of the house onto a wireless carrier.

Apple continues to limit their customer's freedom.With Starbuckís digital network yet another huge company is limiting access to web content, this time based on physical location rather than device platform. Their new network offers a range of content supplied by their partners and tailored to your geographic location, but itís only available inside their stores.

Iím not entirely sure this is a bad thing Ė at least at this point. Apple is right when they say their apps make their devices more secure than, say, Android phones. And Starbucks offers free internet Ė which is awesome Ė so adding additional and unique content to that offering might not be anything to get upset over.

But itís certainly a trend worth watching, since I love the view from the highway, but at some point if you canít hike into the wilderness anymore weíll all regret it.