What I Learned on the Appalachian Trail

As most of you know I took the first 3 weeks of June to hike the AT with a friend to raise money for a scholarship setup in memory of his son and to bring awareness to HCM (Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). I thought we were alone in hiking the AT with a cause but I was wrong. I quickly learned there are a lot of people on the trail for a lot of reasons.

We met Kinder, her trail name, a 63 year old woman. She suffered a stroke two years ago and was hiking the trail to help get over it both physically and mentally and she was doing it by herself. We shared a campsite one rainy night.

We met the professor, a 68 year old man hiking the trail in memory of his wife. They had talked about doing it for years but she recently passed away. He started in Georgia and had no idea how far he was going to make. He just knew he had to go as far as he could. We shared a campfire at Jerry Cabin shelter.

There was Fire starter, a 28 year old man who was lost. Lost in life not on the trail. He had no job, could not get into school, didn’t not know what he wanted or where he was going in life. He was going to walk until he figured it out.

We met a grandmother who was on the trail with her granddaughter. There was Roger Rabbit who was on his third attempt to make it, oh yeah he was 62. There was Buck, six years in the Navy and had to get the military out of his head.

So what did I take away from this, inspiration and self-confidence. There were days that were seven hours of uphill, if Kinder could do it so could I. The next time I have a challenge I’ll remember climbing those hills.

I learned it is about the weight, the more baggage you have the tougher it is to move forward, true in life too. I learned that my problems are small compared to others. And most important I learned to not be so afraid of the unknown.

Chris and I did 84 miles in about 3 weeks, we crossed 17 named peaks, covered some of the highest elevations on the east coast. Matt had a motto “Act as if it is not impossible”. Wise words from someone so young. We left a picture of Matt high on Black Stack Cliffs with a beautiful view overlooking the flatlands of Tennessee.

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Friendly Advice to Deal with the Heartbleed Breech

Everyone has seen news about the Heartbleed virus but here is what they are not telling you.
1- This is probably the largest most offensive hack in the short history of the internet.
2- They do not know for sure how long it has been out there.
3- They have no idea of who or how many people or companies have been affected.
4- It was a beautiful piece of software that left no trace as to its activity.
5- ALL OF US AT SOME POINT HAVE BEEN ON SECURE SITES (https://) which use OpenSSL. Whether shopping, paying bills, accessing everything from Amazon through your bank we have been on sites secured by OpenSSL.
6- What to do. Because there is no way to actually tell how many or who has had information compromised they cannot put a number on it. They do know it is in the millions and chances are good you are one. It is HIGHLY recommended that you as an average person, change ALL YOUR PASSWORDS and please use “Strong” passwords (a combination of upper and lower case letters numbers and symbols).

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Rant About Internet and Computer Security

A few words about computer and Internet security, there isn’t any! This is especially true with email. Email is the single largest spreader of malware and phishing (getting pieces of information) on the planet. Some information is out of your control, like when you swipe that card at Target.

According to CNN Money there are at least two major data breeches a day: department stores, online stores, banks, motor vehicles, Facebook, Gmail the list goes on. What they do is called Profiling. It is just what it says. Somewhere out there someone is building a profile just about you.

First they got your name, address, bank account number and a PIN from data they purchased from someone who hacked a department store, say Target. The next day they meet a guy for coffee and purchases a ton of fresh Facebook data. They took it home and ran it against the first batch and behold they have a match. That match is you and a million others. Now added to what they have is your user name, photos, friends, pets, birthdays, contacts, emails, everything and anything you posted. They will even know when you are not home.

Now with this new data they run an algorithm against your email address and naturally you used a birthday for the password and wham they are in your email account … but hold this thought. What happened to the first batch of information they collected?

While they were working on breaking your Gmail, a Russian mobster came along and paid a boat load for that banking and address info and is off to print credit cards, open accounts, pretty much whatever they want and you would be screwed for years. Back to your Gmail.

First they hit your contacts and address book so your friends and acquaintances can all be infected. Then they scan your email folders, see who you have been talking to. Maybe some account information. Next YOU get an email from Aunt Jen who’s in jail in the UK and needs bail money so naturally you open it. At this point assuming your virus and malware software is up to date it should catch it …. But not always why, ‘cause most of you don’t keep it up to date is the main reason. Same is true with operating systems and browsers and second security is reactive at best.

Did you ever wonder why there are so many updates? Simple every time a security hole is patched the hackers find or build a new one.  But back to Aunt Jen’s urgent email. You open it because it takes a moment to realize that there is no way Aunt Jen could be in jail in the UK.  At this point it is too late. Their little piece of malware has free run. Passwords, user names, account numbers including credit card and banking.  Maybe they installed a key logger. Pretty much whatever they want is all there for picking.

All this information is added to what was already collected and all you can do is sit back and wait for something to happen. Think about it, they could get a passport in your name if they wanted to, get credit, buy a car, get a nose job all on you or are there steps you can take?

The short answer is this, don’t put the information out there in the first place. Next would be, not to store certain information on the computer. Now I know that there are practicalities in place but there are steps you can take to limit your exposure.

Lets’ start with the first, using your credit card for shopping both in a store and online. Do not use a credit card! Instead get a debit card with a set limit. After this past year many credit card issuers have limited store charges anyway. Using a debit card will give you an early warning and a level of damage control.

Now the second one your online personal information. This is a tough one, a lot of fine lines here but for now we are talking usernames and passwords. It is hard not to talk about the kids or birthdays but you do not need to use them for passwords. This is a case where being lazy can really cost you. For me the best passwords are what are called “Strong” passwords. A random mix of numbers and symbols right off the keyboard. Nothing related to my life in any way shape or form. Given that most logins use your email as the user a strong password is your only defense. Use strong passwords for everything but do not use the same one password for all logins. Now how to remember those passwords leads us to the information on your computer.

How can you not store information on your computer isn’t that what they are for? Well yeah and for the most part what is on your computer is of no interest except certain little pieces. And these pieces are usually kept in neat easy to find folders.

Your first line of defense should be your virus and malware filters. This is very important and it is very important to keep them up to date. The same is true with operating systems and software.

Next are those passwords. Rule one, if your computer offers to save or to auto fill SAY NO. This just saves everything into one neat pile. Forget about the software that promises to keep it all safe. So where do you keep all these passwords, banking information, and account logins? Flash drives. Good old cheap flash drives. Save your data to simple word or text files to the flash drive. Only insert the drive when you are going to use it. They are great for backing up data too.

You can load Firefox onto a flash drive and keep your browsing private when using strange machines.

You cannot do this with most mobile devices so you have to careful what you store on your phone. Never store critical information or banking on a mobile device besides hacking they are vulnerable to theft and lose. While we are talking mobile a couple of words about some of the most dangerous places for getting hacked, public hot spots. Coffee shops, airports, down town. It is so easy to spoof a hotspot it is incredible. You could be giving your data to the person at the next table and never know it.

So this is my security rant. So many people are getting hit and it’s not necessary. Just open your eyes to the world we live in and take some simple steps. Make it harder for someone to get your valuable information.

 

 

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You Can No Longer Put Off Updating Your Website to Mobile

Numbers don’t lie. There are over two billion people around the globe, who own a mobile device. Manufacturers are continually engineering more affordable smartphone devices targeting developing nations and the number of users around the globe is expected to continue rising by the day. The only way to ensure you remain on the cutting edge of your niche is to have a mobile website for your company.

The average internet user spends more time online using their phone or smart device than they does using a computer. Apart from gaming and social media networking, the mobile user largely depends on the mobile device for Googling. That would explain why Google search engine queries from mobile devices grew exponentially by almost 500% between 2009 and 2014. The implication is that any business that has not invested in a mobile website is missing out on thousands of potential clients.

A mobile friendly website helps your business tap into new markets across the globe. It gives you the chance to grow your business beyond your geographical location. For instance, studies have indicated that mobile users in Australia and Brazil actually shop online via their mobile phones more often than their American counterparts. Going mobile will help your business tap into this emerging market.

When contracting a website design firm to build your company website, it is important to insist on a portable website. It would not make economic sense to pay a lot of money for a website that only loads on a computer. A good website design company should help you get a website that is portable across the different devices to ensure maximum brand exposure to the online community.

There are two main methods that web developers use to make a website portable. The first option is creating a mobile app or a totally new website especially made for mobile devices. The second option is just making one website but coding it to be friendly for both desktop and mobile devices. The best option for your business depends on a variety of issues including the customer base, the functions you need as well as the purpose for the mobile friendly website. Lone Bird Studio an Asheville web design company specializes in both options.

Most smartphone users typically spend more money than their counterpart desktop users. Apart from the higher purchasing power, mobile users tend to have more confidence buying online as opposed to the desktop users. It also opens the door to being able to develop mobile apps for your potential users and let’s not forget AR (Augmented Reality). You can combine mobile devices and AR to bring anything to life from sales materials through video.

Apart from making your website mobile device friendly you need to ensure the website is user friendly. This might mean using different font faces and colors from those used on the desktop version. It is important to remember mobile users spend most of their time browsing social media websites and since all of them are optimized for the mobile phones and mobile devices, they will typically expect the same experience when they visit your mobile website.

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Add New Life to Business cards, Rack cards or Printed Materials

Want to know how? Augmented Reality the new tool in this mobile age to help you get your message out.

What is it and how does it work? Augmented Reality allows you to add a new and interactive layer to objects or scenes that we look at all the time. When someone has a compatible viewer on their device and holds it over your sales materials many wondrous things can happen.

A business or Rack card for example will display an image that seems to hover over the piece allowing you to add hidden discounts, a menu, links to webpages and more. But we are not limited to just flat images like text and pictures. Real estate for example can show a 3D image of the property. You can even rotate it for a complete 3D walk around. Restaurants can use it on menus, it can be used on printed ads and coupons and think of the possibilities for education.

The uses are vast, t-shirts, posters, packaging can all be used to trigger the animation. By using the location services built in to your devices you can use landscape and buildings to bring objects to life and expand information. But it is the near future that will bring Augmented Reality in to its own with wearable technology like Google’s new Glass, Meta Pro, and Vuzix. Heads up displays in automobiles, gaming and training visuals are all in the works, some are here now. The auto industry is already bringing it to the showroom and to your car and navigation systems.

So, no longer is your business card just something you hand out. Now you can turn it into a visual experience. Remember that user involvement increases response and that translates to your bottom line.

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Wearing Reality on Your Sleeve

From Dick Tracy’s radio wrist watch to the VISOR that allows the blind Geordi La Forge to see in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the idea of wearable technology has excited imaginations for decades. Today, Google Glass continues to grab attention and Apple is rumored to be working on a smartwatch. Development of these devices was undercut by technological limitations in the past, but with recent advances in chip miniaturization and AR the virtual sky is the limit.

 In case you’ve been living under a rock, augmented reality is a view of the world that has been computer modified or enhanced. During the last decade augmented reality, or AR, has moved from the world of video games and training simulations to real world applications. Next generation natural user interfaces are in the works such as utilizing, not just touch and gestures, but also advanced biometric sensors which register emotions and image recognition.

 Imagine all your favorite apps, not at your fingertips, but right in front of your eyes. Take a picture by speaking a phrase, get turn-by-turn directions overlaid on the road ahead of you, or message your friends hands-free. These features are already available with wearables today. Fitness and health apps are also popular, with pedometers, heart monitors, and even a toothbrush that tells your smartphone how efficiently you brush your teeth.

 The wave of wearable technology is riding on ever smaller processing chips. Intel chief executive has been touting their new Quark microprocessor. This device offers a dual-core x86-compatible processor, microcontroller, RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi in the size of an SD card. It is this tiny size that makes designing easily wearable computers feasible.

 Developers want to make their reality augments more than just popups in our field of vision. They are working to make a total 3-D reality inversion with all of our senses augmented. Once that becomes doable, there is no limit. The entirety of our experience will be able to be altered. Communication between drivers, their vehicles, and pedestrians becomes possible. We will be able to correct impaired sight or hearing. Through the implantation of medical sensors, we could streamline body functions, increase healing and recovery, reduce bodily wear and tear, and improve pain management.

 As with all new formats, web designers will have to adapt their techniques. With AR mobile web design becomes creating an overlay for the world. It’s sort of like using an old overhead projector, but in front of your eyes. Social media and advertising sites are some of the first are some of the first to adapt their mobile web design for wearables, easily integrating what you’re viewing.

 Every new technology comes with a downside. All of this monitoring and information gathering will be ripe for the gathering by government agencies, hackers, or people with bad intensions. In this future, privacy will also be a thing of the past, as will downtime, and being unreachable (voluntarily or otherwise).

 Just as the mobile phone sent the payphone the way of the dinosaurs, having separate phones, GPS devices, credit or debit cards, TV, computer, and glasses or contacts will become a thing of the past. Revenue from wearable technological devices is expected to be $20 billion by 2017. We just have to not lose ourselves in all the cool gadgetry.

 

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Mobile Web Design Creates New Design and Content Decisions

Responsive design is a new and groundbreaking approach to web design and development for different platforms such as laptop, desktop, smartphone, and tablet devices. With the growing number of devices available in the market, a website must have provisions to adjust itself according to different browser sizes and screen resolutions.

 Currently the web developers use different approaches to accomplish this task. One such common approach is to create dedicated tablet or mobile sites for different manners of devices. However, the drawback to this approach is that with all the plethora of web-enabled devices available for the users, this solution may not be feasible for too long. Another thing is that developing and maintaining multiple device-specific versions may increase both the development and the upkeep costs of the website. An alternative to this approach is to use a device detection script for the website. The detection script determines the current device and redirects the user to the specific site for the device. But again, the drawback is that some of these detection scripts experience difficulties keeping up with the wide array of different tablet and mobile devices which keep on flooding the electronic gadget market.

 Responsive web design is a design solution that helps web designers get around these problems. This is an approach that has created a whole category of new design decisions for website design and development. According to responsive design approach, website design should be made to respond to different user environments based on orientation, platform, screen size and resolution. So, if a user makes a switch from his iPad to his desktop, the website would switch itself automatically to facilitate the new image size, screen resolution, and scripting options. A web designer can make a website perform this function by proper use of CSS3 media queries and by mixing images with flexible grids and layouts.

 However, responsive web design is not a single technology or a one-stop solution that will automatically optimize the functionality of a site in accordance to changes in screen size or orientation. Rather, it involves a complex set of techniques and the web developer needs to apply them in line with the optimization strategy for a particular site or project. For example, one needs to decide on image and content placement strategies when the screen size reduces. For example, a simple fluid image solution for a responsive site is to set the ‘max-width’ of the image to 100%. This ensures that when the screen dimensions are smaller than those of the native image, the image will scale down to fit the screen. While this solution works well for most situations, it is still not a fully satisfactory one since this allows the developer very limited control over the layout of a page. For example, large images, even when scaled down, can dominate the screen and overwhelm important text or content in the page.

 A more sophisticated solution in this regard is to use the ‘percentage width’ solution, according to which the width percentage number of the native image in relation to the overall width of the page in the original design is plugged in as the image width in the responsive layout. This makes sure that the original layout stays undisturbed even when the screen size shrinks.

There are also decisions to be made as to what kind of content will be prioritized for small screen versions. The most common solutions in responsive design will make sure that menus, logos, and such common content text remain intact with changes in screen size. However, web designers still need to decide what information is the most relevant for the users of a specific site and which part of the content can be removed for smaller devices. A responsive solution to this is to use task analysis to identify user goals and tasks on the website. A task analysis will inform the web designer on what kind of activities the users are performing most on the site and what content and information are the best cruised. The developer can then use this information to make a well-optimized responsive site for his client.

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Take Your Website Mobile with Responsive Design

Responsive web design is a design solution that helps web designers’ create adaptable and useable websites. This is an approach that has created a whole category of new design decisions for website design and development. According to the responsive design approach, website design should respond to different user environments based on orientation, platform, screen size and resolution. So, if a user makes a switch from his iPad to his desktop, the website would switch itself automatically to facilitate the new image size, screen resolution, and scripting options. A web designer can make a website perform this function by proper use of CSS3 media queries and by mixing images with flexible grids and layouts.

The main concept of responsive design is to create a scalable designs that will accommodate adjustments for different devices. A website created in this manner is called a responsive site. In place of creating multiple sites with different creative elements, user interfaces, and content, a responsive site will adapt itself automatically to different web environments with the help of the scalable and fluid designs built into the website. For example, if a website logo contains the name of the website and an image and the web designer needs to crop or reposition it for different platforms, he can divide the logo image into two images. The picture would be made into a background image and the name of the site a foreground image. This will then enable him to crop or resize the picture in proportion to screen size or orientation without cropping the name, too. Responsive design also optimizes one HTML file for different environments. This approach has in fact revolutionized the way a website is built for multiple platforms and although this is still a bit pricier option, this looks to be the only feasible option for future as of now.

To learn more: http://lonebird.com/responsive-design.php

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Time to Say Goodbye

 Time to say goodbye to IE8 and IE9. Being in training seminaries, and working with other designers we all share a common frustration. That frustration is having to dumb down otherwise great sites to work on these two browsers. There is comparability mode but that only goes so far. The reason … they are old.  These browsers are 13 to 14 years old and the web has grown and changed immensely in that time.

 Our consensus is to start ignoring them. With the plethora of operating systems and browsers out there the rate at which they change and new products come on line it just makes sense.  Besides you are missing a lot of what the Internet has to offer not to mention the security issues. 

 The solution is simple, update. 14 years is a long time for an operating system. Most people don’t own a car this long. If you absolutely have to have XP at least update the browser. Unfortunately you can’t use Microsoft but there are others like Firefox, Safari and Opera. I would tend to shy away from Chrome.

 I know humans are creatures who fear and resist change but technology has altered the way you need to think at least concerning the Internet. So make life easier for the developers in your life, improve your security, and greatly enhance your Internet experience, update.

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Are you being deleted because of G- Mail?

I could have a second title “Why You Should Use Your Domain” but this is more about G-Mail and what it can do to your business.

With most Google services they encourage you to setup a G-mail account and because of the convenience many businesses use it but as things evolve on the web like they do this may not be the best choice for you.

The reason is simple G-mail has become the leading access portal for spam, scams and hackers. With relative ease scammers can create accounts, target victims and vanish making it the latest tool of choice.

Many services now like Craigslist are warning people and Google itself has issued warnings to beware that scams and hacking are increasing. I know what our spam filters kick out I can only image what the actual volume is. As awareness grows people will become more and more suspect of messages with a G-mail address.

How do you stay out of the spam folder?

If you do use G-mail make sure your subject is clearly defined but better yet use your domain! It amazes me how many put so much into their websites but use G-mail, AOL, EarthLink or something similar. It is almost always better to use your domain. It is good for business, it legitimizes you and is better for your web footprint overall.

That is my rant for the day.

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