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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How 12 men stole a billion passwords

How in the world did a crime ring of about a dozen Russian men hack 1.2 billion user name and password combinations - plus a half billion email addresses?

They did it by exploiting two major vulnerabilities many major online services have to hacking - 1) poorly stored usernames and passwords, and 2) something called "SQL injection".

I'm not going to pretend I know my way around these two issues. But Tom Scott, a regular contributor to the Computerphile YouTube channel, does.

The man's a genius at explaining these vulnerabilities in language that even people like me can understand.

See if your jaw doesn't drop as you start to understand how scarily easy these thefts are to engineer if you're bent on malice and know what you're doing.

Tom Scott on the right and wrong ways to store usernames and passwords.

Tom Scott on SQL injection.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spout: Gorgeous Twitter Visualizer on the Cheap

What would you do if you were charged with getting a tweet board up for an important event, you had no budget, and it had to be something that would grab attention?

Sure, you could Google "Twitter visualization" and find a few finicky and not-so-flashy free products. You could also pay outrageous amounts of money to unlock a premium product.

Or you could pay $2 for Spout, the remarkable flexible tweet visualizer for iPad and iPhone. Spout gives you 15 highly customizable themes, modes, display times, animation controls - and more cool features than you can possibly use at one event.

Spout doesn't allow you to display multiple tweets, just one tweet at a time. But it's guaranteed attract eyeballs and draw your participants into the Twitter conversation. Hit the video below and feel your jaw drop.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cynic tells us TED talks are American Idol, presentations junk

Benjamin Bratton has taken a lot of heat since he published a scorching piece called We Need to Talk About TED in the Guardian on December 30, 2013.

The thrust of his argument is that "so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens." This he argues in his intelligent but astonishingly cynical op-ed which contains the entire text of the 11-minute TEDx San Diego talk below.

Listen as Bratton deflates the enthusiasm behind the reception of TED talks by the great unwashed (read us and the audience immediately in front of him) and rips presenters for not dealing with more difficult and substantive issues. Are those who take to the stage really Gladwellian, American Idol-styled sell-outs?

I can't begin to argue with Bratton point for point. But this I do know. For the longest time, TED's signature tagline has been "ideas worth spreading" - a simple promise, and in my experience, often delivered.

Would love to hear your views below.

Friday, January 3, 2014

How IBM's jaw-dropping classroom of the future will 'learn' you

IBM's vision for the classroom five years from now is wrong on so many levels. When I came across this infographic and the accompanying video today my jaw dropped.

I added the numbers to the graphic above and keyed my bullets below to them to help unpack what the good folks at International Business Machines are thinking. But you'll quickly see many more flaws than I can point out. And if you're insulted by the six copy points in the graphic, just wait till you click on the video below.

1) Yes, the classroom will "learn" you - providing you are a student lucky enough to participate in Big Blue's dream of grabbing a utopian chunk of the world's public education pie. This "classroom" of which they speak? Basically, it's a hardware/software/cloud combo IBM wants to sell your school division after its research project with Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the US, is complete.

2) Now, what Dr. Frase is really saying here is the classroom will learn about every student in your class, providing you enter copious amounts of standardized test and other data (the more numbers the better) about them and brief the software about their aptitudes and learning preferences. Notice, too, that this not-quite-human helper will actually provide you with a tailored curriculum for each student from kindergarten all the way through high school until they get their first job at McDonalds. Hmm.

3) If you thought "The classroom of the future" was some corny Popular Science / Jetsons / 1950's news reel fabrication, not so fast. Consider that this classroom will be so darn smart, it will help your kids master skills critical to meeting their goals. Not to make light of students genuine interests and desires, but it's only the kids goals that count right? Not yours, their parents or even Society's. But can hardware and software even DO that? Looks like the classroom of the future can.

4) This classroom is so clever, in fact, that it will substantially lighten your load by developing a syllabus based on every child's learning style and pace. Sure, you may have to push a few buttons and stuff, but that classroom computer will do the real grunt work. And you know that flipped classroom experiment? Well, this will be even better because now your students will be able to learn everything on their terms and their schedule.

5) Now, read carefully here. If there's anything getting in the way of any of your young charge's educations right now - hunger, poverty, gangs, violence, teen pregnancy, a bad home life - the system will take make these barriers less of a deal in how they do in school. Yup.

6) Finally, if you're wondering what exactly will fuel this magical helper of yours? Why, numbers of course. And don't feel too insulted when you read that last paragraph. IBM knows things like identifying kids most at risk and finding measures to overcome their challenges are really your job. But they also know you could use a hand from their version of Hal.

Ok, your thoughts? Have you ever seen a more clumsy attempt by a multinational to engineer its way into heavier profits at the expense of good pedagogy and teacher autonomy? Now, we know IBM will have to duke it out with ed behemoth Pearson and other players for market share, but can you get more disingenuous and disrespectful? Is it really a matter of sitting back, punching in the numbers and reaping the benefits of individualized machine-generated curricula for students? Is this really a vision for the future, five years out?

As you watch the video below, you'll form more impressions. Mine actually boil down to a simple question. Honestly IBM, who do you think you are?

Your thoughts, dear reader, would be most welcome.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good Eye Instagram: Love the New DMs

Direct messages are now IG reality and I, for one, am plenty excited. Almost as much as with the roll-out of 15-sec. video this summer.

I don't care if this is a knee-jerk to keep young IG users from wandering onto Snapchat or Path, this is a feature I've been dreaming about ever since I first waded into Instagram over two years ago.

By that time, I was a Twitter junkie and although the Instagram platform was so engaging, I really missed the opportunity to contact followers directly. I wasn't about to adopt a secondary platform like Kik - as many did - just to contact my to IG friends directly.

I've sent one sorry little DM so far, so I've nowhere near explored the possibilities of this feature, but my mind is racing. I can now send a pic or 15-second video clip to one, or any combination, of my followers. That's a big deal. Why?

Here are four simple things Instagram DMs will do for me and IG users across Instaverse.

1) We can now share messages privately, rather than conversing in public under someone else's pics and vids. Hey, I love the whole watercooler thing, you know. The idea that IG conversations are convened around public images. But sometimes rather than communicating on public bulletin board, all I want to do is leave a private post-it.

(Anyway, thank you Instagram. And thank you Facebook for not messing up platform I still love, at least so far, after you horrified everyone with your $1 billion IG purchase 18 months ago.)

2) Community managers for organizational Instagram ccounts can now respond to followers privately. This gives them greater flexibility to offer guidance or deal with complaints.

3) Instagram pics and video will allow for asynchronous meetings. Sure you can do this on other platforms already. But IGers will appreciate the fact that working groups, organizational teams, and family members can now huddle privately, whenever.

4) Personalized Christmas or holiday greetings to friends, colleagues and family members will be a cinch. There's a lot to be said for warm and fuzzy video/pics targeted to people you love.

As with any new tech, IG users will respond to the DM ability by creating a tonne of new uses for the feature.

Some tech press is already hailing Instagram's DM announcement as meh, and sure it's been a long time coming.

But IG users are going to go crazy for the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Better Way to Record Audio to Your iPhone or iPad

The superb iRig mic plugs right into your iPhone/iPad, costs roughly $60, and is available at your Apple store.
If you shoot video on your iPhone or iPad you know how hard it is to get good quality sound. The same holds true if you're recording for Sound Cloud or Garage Band on those same devices. The built-in microphones just weren't made to capture sound well.
The iRig Mic is a great way to give your video or audio productions the sound they deserve.
This microphone is solid but lightweight, has a built-in wind screen, and captures superb quality audio at three different settings.
The bottom one is perfect for recording live music that usually registers as a hot, fuzzy mess on your iOS device. This setting tamps down the sound so you can actually hear your favourite band on playback.
The middle setting is good for recording sound within a a foot of the source. This is good for streeters or video interviews with people where you pose a question, then hold the mic close to your subject to get their thoughts.
Finally, the top setting puts the mic in ultra-sensitive mode. This is perfect for events where you're either far away from the source or the source audio is weak and you need all the boost you can get.
I've tested this ultra-sensitive setting in situations where I was about 15' away from speakers at a press conference and the difference in sound quality between the iRig and the built-in iPhone mic was incredible. The iPhone's mic's sound was weak and frankly compromised the viewability of the video, whereas the iRig-recorded sound was bright and clear.
I've also used this mic in a noisy construction site where I need decent quality sound on a subject's voice. Placing the mic about 2 ft away from the subject - again on the top setting - cut through the din and gave me decent quality sound. A little hot, but perfectly listenable.
My son has used this ultra-sensitive setting to record voice and guitar in our sunroom, positioning the mic on a low table about 3-4 ft. away and it worked well.
The iRig mic also lets you monitor sound quality by letting you plug a set of headphones.
Check out this great, inexpensive microphone at your local Apple or music store.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

3 Knockout Instagram Vids for Inspiring Movement

Since Instagram added the ability to shoot 15-second video, you've likely been experimenting with this new medium. It's perfect for giving people a taste of what you're experiencing, from a brilliant sunset, concert or festival, to a skateboard move, a newborn - or even the fish that didn't get away.

While scanning the hashtags I came upon three videos that really got me thinking about movement. Hope these will inspire you, too.

1) Choreographed one-shot video. Most of us build our Instagram videos and Vines with quick cuts and the occasional pan. But what if you eliminated the cuts entirely and shot in one take? Look at the flow - and great choreography - evident in this work from Sarah Vickers who blogs at Note how the fashion is almost incidental to the setting. There are more fluid one-shot videos in her Instagram gallery to inspire you. Click here to see them.

2) Falling out of frame. This visually surprising work comes from Miklas Manneke from South Africa who used the hashtag #tiltvidgram to describe the action. It came out on top in @Instagram's recent #whpmyfavoriteplace challenge. Creative motion requires some deliberate out-of-box thinking - and Miklas and collaborator @garethpon rocked the muse on this one. Go to Miklas' gallery here.

3) Urban stop-motion. New York Times columnist and author Nick Bilton created this brain-tickling video that entertains your eyes by showing stop-motion vehicular and pedestrian traffic on a busy city street. Click here to check out the awesome stills in his Instagram gallery, too.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stand and Talk 2: Why You'll Love Instagram Video

Upstart platform Vine has had a tremendous impact on the social media landscape with its easy-to-shoot, six-second video format. But Instagram struck back brilliantly this week by introducing video to its uber-popular photo-sharing site. As of July 20, 2013, you can now record and post 15-second videos to your Instagram account.

This isn't simply a great competitive countermove, but a handy new tool for educators for all the reasons I cite in the video above. I know you'll find your own reasons to love Instagram video. If you're a teacher without an IG account yet, consider opening one and start contributing to this tremendously supportive and  creative community. It's a great way to share what the world looks like through your eyes and the eyes of your students (if you have social media releases for them, of course).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Make Your Own RSAnimate Videos with Videoscriber

Ok, so you have seen those RSAnimate videos where a disembodied hand draws and writes to a voice-over of Sir Ken Robinson or another famous TED talker. You can actually do something very close to this with Videoscriber from Sparkol - without even knowing how to draw.

Invest a few minutes in this video and do not be put off by slightly poor sound. What you see once the demo starts will floor you. Check out the second and third tutorial and some of the promotional vids as well.

Imagine the possibilities for yourself or project work for your students. I am not sure if there is a an educational discount, but there is a pricing scale you can check out - and a seven-day free trial.

I owe this one to Steve Snider, formerly of the NEA and now with Integrated Media. Thank you so much, Steve. You can bet I will be checking out Videoscriber this summer.

Stand and Talk 1: Boost Your iPhone Audio

Getting good quality sound - or sound that is simply loud enough - on your iPhone or iPad videos is a real challenge. For anything farther away than your arm, the built-in mic just does not cut it. A good option in some circumstances is the RODE SmartLav mic. This basic lapel mic lets you isolate your voice from the ambient sound around you and substantially boosts the pick up on your voice.

My mistake in this video was to position it about 6 inches from my collar - the recommended distance. After I reviewed the video, I realized that was much too close. You can hear the sound running a bit hot and clipping after I plug the mic in. Because the SmartLav is so sensitive, a better distance would have been perhaps 10 inches down.

Still a good product, though - and one way to deal with the frustration of poor on-camera sound. In a future post I will tell you about the iRig mic - a real premium product, more flexible than this, and at the same price.

Happy recording.