Newsletter, Mar 2012: Public Wi-Fi is Unsecure (Part 2), Cloud Computing, Facebook Timeline

Published: Sat, 03/31/12

Geeks on Tour

Kayak Diving in Fort Lauderdale

Although we've had a mild and beautiful winter here in Fort Lauderdale, it has also been quite breezy and that's not conducive to paddling your kayak in the ocean.  We're getting ready to hit the road the first week of April, so we were thrilled when the weather - and the wind - cooperated to let us take advantage of the last day of lobster season.  We got both our kayaks, dusted off the scuba gear, and met our Kayuba dive club at the beach last Sunday morning. 

It felt so good to get wet!  There's just nothing like paddling on the ocean and going scuba diving.  Check out this video we made a few years back to see.  Jim caught enough lobster for us to invite a few friends and have a nice surf and turf dinner. 

Techno-Geek Learning Rally

It's not too late to register for our week-long immersion training in all things technology for Travelers!  It's going to be a small group with plenty of individual attention as you learn to use your computer, tablet, smartphones, cameras, and more.

Highways Magazine
Chris' article on Social Networking for RVers is published in the April/May issue of Highways Magazine.  'Get Away, Stay Connected: Why Computers, the Internet, and Social Networks are Perfect Companions for RVers'

Picasa Book on Kindle

Updated to version 3.9, this book will step you thru the entire process.  Import pictures from your camera to the computer, organize pictures into folders and albums using tags. 

The book explains all the different editing tools, including 3.9's new side-by-side editing.  Ever wonder whether or not you should save a picture after you edit it?  All that is explained in simple language. 

Kindle price is $9.95 - instant download.


Public Wi-Fi is Unsecure - You Secure Your Computer

iStock_000015926728XSmallLast month we wrote an article about Public Wi-Fi being unsecure and focused on the security of your data that is being sent out from your computer.  The other issue in using Public Wi-Fi is unwanted guests coming INTO your computer.

This article reviews ways to keep your computer safe from intruders.

Are the Bad Guys in your RV Park?

The first thing to understand about a Public Wi-Fi hotspot is that it is only accessible by someone in close physical proximity to that Wi-Fi hotspot.  So, if you are connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot in an RV park, the only danger of intruders is from the other people at the same RV park.  The technology that handles this is called Network Address Translation or NAT for short.  It refers to the router that runs the hotspot.  The router is the only device which is connected to the public Internet, all the computers in the hotspot are connected the router ... a private network.  Someone on the outside Internet cannot discover computers on the other side of a router with Network Address Translation. 

I guess it's possible that some bad guys are in your RV park but the odds are very small.  The odds are higher in an airport or coffee shop, but you're still not at risk to the world.  You know why Jesse James robbed banks, right?  Because that's where the money is!  The same goes for professional computer thieves - their targets are big corporations and banks where they can get thousands of social security numbers or bank account IDs - they don't have much interest in the contents of travelers' laptops.

Choose 'Public' as Your Network Location

Consider the US Mail as in last month's article on HTTPS, and imagine that you're afraid that the mail deliverer will have access to the belongings in your house when she delivers and picks up your mail.  She clearly has access to anything in your mailbox, but she'll only get in your house if you leave your front door wide open!  The same is true for connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Anyone else who is connected to the same Wi-Fi hotspot can gain access to anything on your computer that you have set to share on a network - the equivalent of a mailbox.  So don't share anything!  Lock it down.

It helps to remember a bit of history here, a Wi-Fi hotspot is a network.  Networks were originally developed for the express purpose of sharing files and printers among different computers on the same network.  Networks are still used for sharing files on a Home or a Work network - just not on a Public network like a Wi-Fi hotspot in an RV park or airport.  A public Wi-Fi hotspot is intended to share the Internet connection and nothing more. 

Most modern Wi-Fi hotspots will already be configured with an Internet Firewall so that computers on the network cannot see each other.  But you can't count on that - maybe it's an older hotspot or it was installed by non-professionals who don't understand this step.  So, the important thing you need to do is to specify that this is a Public network when you connect to it.  For more detail on this option see the Microsoft article on Choosing a Network Location.  With Windows Vista and Windows 7, the choice is quite clear with the following dialog box - Public Network is the correct choice.


If you look closely, you'll see a checkbox at the bottom that reads, "Treat all future networks that I connect to as public, and don't ask me again." This would be a good option for travelers who are often connecting to different hotspots.

If you don't use Windows Vista or Windows 7: See this article for Turn off File and Printer Sharing with Windows XP. On the Mac it is System Preferences/ File Sharing - turn it on when you're on your home network and off when you're on a public network. Here's a Macworld article on securing your Macintosh while traveling.

All Bets are Off if Your Computer is Already Infected

Proper maintenance of your computer is required to keep it clean.  If your computer has a virus or other malware already active when you connect to the Internet, then the security steps discussed in these articles are meaningless.  Your computer will do the bidding of the malware. So, what is proper maintenance?  I'm glad you asked!

  1. Updates for your Operating System (OS):  Windows, Mac OS, Linux, all release updates most every month, sometimes multiple times a month.  These updates patch security holes as soon as they are discovered.  If you have not installed the Updates for your Operating System, then there are holes in your computer's security that can be exploited by malware (software from the 'bad guys'.)
  2. Anti-Malware Software: this includes anti-virus and anti-spyware, you must have this installed and running on your computer.  There are many products out there. is a good source of reviews.  Many of the best options are free - like Microsoft Security Essentials.
  3. Updates for your Anti-Malware Software : just because you installed Anti-Malware software doesn't mean you're protected. It needs to be up to date and running properly.  Most software today updates itself automatically and performs the scans automatically as well.  Just be sure yours is doing so.  If you installed it 4 years ago, and it hasn't been updated, it is doing you no good.  New viruses are born every day.
  4. Firewall: Every computer needs an active firewall, but don't go too crazy.  The firewall that comes with your computer is fine.  If you buy extra firewalls, you need to learn how to properly configure them.  We've seen firewalls configured so tight that the computer's owner couldn't use the Internet at all!

Conclusion = 98%

If you follow the guidelines in this article and last month's article on HTTPS, you will be 98% protected against any unintended use of your data image transmissions (outgoing risks) or contents of your computer (incoming risks).  Are there still some risks?  Yes.  Just like securing your home or car - a professional burglar that really wants in will find a way.  I say that's the 2% risk that I'm willing to take.  What I hope you get out of this article is the understanding that a 'secure' connection to the Internet is not the answer.  Your connection to the Internet does not provide your protection.  You do.  Your job is to:

  1. Keep your computer up-to-date and malware-free
  2. Specify Public Network/No Sharing in your network settings
  3. Use valid HTTPS websites

For shorthand, just remember UPS: Updates, Public Network setting (no file sharing), and httpS/Secure website.  If you do that, then you are protected against 98% of the nasties, regardless of how you connect to the Internet.

Have something to add?  Leave a comment here ...

Facebook: Adding a Cover Photo to your Timeline

fb-menu2First of all - What is the Timeline?  It's the new layout on your Facebook Profile.  Realize that your Profile is not your home page.  The Home Page is your News Feed - the place where all the news from your friends shows up.  Your profile is just about you.  When someone clicks on your name anywhere in Facebook, they end up at your Profile ... all about YOU.

Do you have Timeline Yet?

So, step one for adding a banner to your Timeline is to be viewing your Timeline.  Click on your name.  If you haven't yet upgraded to the Timeline your Profile will look similar to the image on the left below.  If that's your situation, the first thing to do is to go to Facebook's Timeline introduction page and click 'Get it Now.'  Be aware that this is irreversible.  Once you advance to the Timeline layout for your profile you cannot go back .  Personally, I love the timeline.  I've been a journal-keeper since I was a little girl.  Facebook's Timeline is the ultimate journal/scrapbook/photo album of your life, all arranged on a vertical line representing time.  At the top is Now, at the bottom is the date you were born.  However, as with any change, it takes some getting used to and many people don't like it. 

Old Profile Layout

New Profile Layout, aka Timeline

Adding your First 'Cover' Photo

fb-timeline-photoWhen you first upgrade to Timeline, you won't have a cover photo.  You will see a little button in the space intended for the cover.  Click the 'Add a Cover' button and then you can choose to upload a picture from your computer, or use one from one of your existing photo albums.  Once you've selected a photo, you can move it around until it looks good in the space allotted.  The picture will be wide ... it must be at least 720 pixels wide in order to look ok.

Changing your Cover Photo

If you already have a Cover Photo in place and you want to change it, just hover over the existing picture and you will see a button to 'Change Picture.'  Click that and you'll be able to upload a new photo, or pick another one from your albums on Facebook.

To learn more about using Facebook, check out our Learning Library of Tutorial Videos for Facebook.  Anyone, even non-members, can watch the lessons on What is Facebook: Your Personalized Online Newspaper.  A very important video lesson is the one on Privacy.  This one is for Members only.

Better yet, register for our Techno-Geek Learning Rally April 22-28 in Bushnell, Florida.  You're guaranteed to learn lots about the Facebook!

Have something to add?  Leave a Comment here ...

Why Travelers should be Excited by Cloud Computing

iStock_000016827851XSmallAbout a year ago, someone in our audience asked us to explain the TV ads for Microsoft where the people kept murmuring something about 'To the Cloud.'  We explained that 'The Cloud' was just a new marketing term for the Internet - that's true, but it has come to mean something more specific and personal than that. 
The nebulous entity that is created by many computers being connected together has always been represented in diagrams by a cloud.  In one of Geeks on Tour's earliest videos (basc11.Intro to Web Browsing), we analogized the Internet to a 'parallel universe' above the earth ... in the clouds.  We found this to be very helpful with concepts like UPload and DOWNload, for example.

Your Data in the Cloud = Device Independence

The Web, as it becomes more pervasive, is being used to accomplish more tasks.  It started out as a place where only web-savvy programmers could create content.  Webmasters created websites and the rest of us accessed the content in those sites.  Now it is a place where you can put your own stuff in a password protected area - your own 'Cloud' -  so you can access your stuff with any device. 

Email was probably the first example.  If you use web-based email - like gmail, you could look at your email on your computer, or on someone else's computer. Now you can use your smartphone or tablet to access the same email.  All you have to do is log in.  It doesn't matter what device you use, because your email isn't stored on any of your devices.  It's stored on the Web, in the Cloud, and you access it with whatever device is most convenient.

With faster internet connections, and cheaper storage, we have the ability to put a lot more of our stuff on the web. If you use software like Carbonite or Mozy to back up your computer's file to the Internet, a year ago you might have said, "I back up my files to the web." Now you probably say, "I back up my files to the Cloud."  If you have an account with Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon, you have a password-protected place to store your stuff.  With Google it's called Google Docs, Microsoft is SkyDrive, Apple is iCloud, and Amazon is Amazon Cloud Drive.  Most any file that you store in any of these locations will be accessible by any computing device you have.  This means no more worries when you leave home about what computer to take with you and what it has on it.

Software in the Cloud - It's more than Just Storage

Every year, around March, I used to buy a box from the computer store for the TurboTax software for that year.  When they started making the software available on the web, I jumped on it. I had no desire to own the TurboTax software for every year, I just wanted to rent it to do my taxes each year.  And, since I use the online system, it keeps my data from year to year.  I only need to update the numbers.  I used to say, "I do my taxes online." Now I guess I could say I do my taxes in the Cloud.

Google Docs and SkyDrive, mentioned above are also more than just online storage areas, software is included.  If you have a Microsoft account and use SkyDrive, you can create documents with the online equivalent of Word. skydrive
You can also create spreadsheets with the online equivalent of Excel, or presentations with the online equivalent of PowerPoint.  Now we're talking Cloud Computing.  Your only need for a computing device is to be able to connect to the Internet and run the applications on your Cloud.  All your computing work is done in the Cloud! googledocs

Google Docs can also read and write to Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but you'll use the Google equivalent while working in the Cloud.  Google Docs takes spreadsheets one step further and allows you to create Forms.  These forms can be embedded in websites and used as surveys or other data collection devices.  Any user who sees the form can fill it out and, when they click Save - their data gets collected in the Google Docs Spreadsheet. 

What used to take hours of technical web programming is now just a few clicks in Google Docs.  For example, this survey of your Cloud Computing usage was created with a Google Docs Form.  Go ahead, take the survey - it's just a few questions!  You'll be able to see the results after taking the survey.
Take a guess what SkyDrive with its apps, or Google Docs and apps cost?  Hint: I'll bet you can afford it!

They are both free.  What a boon for travelers!  You don't need to take your main computer with you on the road.  You don't even need to copy important files from your main computer to your travel laptop.  Just use Cloud Computing services and it doesn't matter what computer you have.  Your smartphone or iPad can even do most of your work for you.  You're free!  Free to get away without losing any of your connections to family, friends or work.  Your Cloud is always there, as long as you can find a good Internet connection.
So, get a Google account and play with Google Docs, or get a SkyDrive account and play with the free Office Apps.  This is how most computing will be done as we go forward.
Better yet, register for our Techno-Geek Learning Rally April 22-28 in Bushnell, Florida.  You're guaranteed to learn lots about the Cloud!

Have something to add?  Leave a Comment here ... 

More Tips this Month

  • A Different Kind of RV Rally: Learning Computers, Cameras, and Smartphones:If you are a typical RVer, you use a lot of technology.  How would you like to spend a week, with other RVers learning how to really use all those toys?  Read the full article ...
  • Picasa Tip: Carbonite and Picasa
    f you use Carbonite to do backups online, and you use Picasa to manage the pictures on your computer, then there is a Carbonite feature you need to understand. Read the Full Article ...
  • Picasa Tip: Adding Text to a Collage
    Question: As historian for a club of mine I just love Picasa's Collage feature to put together the pictures I take of all the activities.  But, I need to identify the activities in the picture. Is it possible to add Text to the collage pictures that I have made? Yes!  Read the Full Article ...
  • Picasa Tip: Framing Photos 
    Doesn't a frame make a normal photo look like a work of art?  Picasa 3.9 has several options for framing your photos, and you won't believe how easy they are.  Click for the Rest ...

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