Pen and paper

I do not know how many of you are familiar with the phrase “Death by PowePoint”. In a few words, it’s the terrible boredom that the audience of a slides based presentation must endure most of the times. As my brother said one day, many presentations have the “Point” but are lacking the “Power”. Not long ago, while looking for some materials needed for a presentation I found a very interesting book, “Presentation Zen” written by Garr Reynolds, which, in fact, I highly recommend it to those who want to improve their preparation and public presentation skills.

The book contains numerous interesting ideas but I will focus only on one of them. One of the chapters referring to the preparation phase has the name: “Planning Analog” and it starts with what Steve Jobs said, about 20 years ago, while talking about personal computer potential: “What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” The question is: in design phase, is the computer really like a bicycle for our minds? The author’s answer, in the context of slides preparation, is negative.

At the beginning I was a little surprised by the idea of using pen and paper in the ideas design phase as I know there plenty of software applications on the market claiming creativity enhancement. What’s the reason for this idea? I found two answers based on my own experience:

  1. Any program that I used was created by a different person with different thinking patterns, and, because of that, it will direct my creativity in a very specific way. In other words, my thoughts will have to adapt to the model the program is providing me.
  2. The computer became an instrument used in too many activities: communication, creation, entertainment, work and so on. Personally, I find it difficult to focus as all the time something else will appear that distracts me, either online or offline.

As you have in front of you only a sheet of white paper, both problems disappear. It will be just you, together with your thoughts. As the mathematician Christopher Zeeman said: “Technical skills are the master of complexity while creativity is the master of simplicity”. The simple act of placing ideas on the paper is natural and very powerful. Of course, once your thoughts took shape and from chaos a clear line of ideas appeared, the computer becomes an excellent tool. Used with skill can save many hours of hard work and many precious resources. But in the creation and design phase, it just doesn’t seems to be the right tool.

One interesting problem comes to my mind: for the generation that was born with a PC in their home, will the situation be the same? It’s likely to be different. The human beings have an stunning capacity to adapt to the environment and, probably, the new generation will loose the appeal for pen and paper. But for us, the ones who learned to write on paper before even seeing a keyboard, the magic of these simple, but so powerful instruments remains: pen and paper.

Social networks influence on career

We live in a hyper-connected world. Communications technology has changed the face of many industries and one of the areas significantly influenced the jobs market. Most of us enjoy the benefits of online recruitment sites through which we have access to almost all possible and impossible jobs available today in the world. There are also websites where you can find employees feedback on the companies they work for. Obviously, these are exaggerations, especially negative ones, but if you can read between the lines you can create a pretty good picture about the company you want to work for.

From the employer perspective, I would say, it is more difficult to discover what kind of people apply for your positions. There are classical techniques that companies use when recruiting: interviews, referrals, psychological tests, technical tests, etc.. But there is always an error margin in selecting an employee and its not uncommon to get unpleasant surprises. However, we are experiencing an major shift in the recruitment process. Employers began to receive unexpected help from the Internet and, in particular from social networks.

The results of the survey in 2010 published by Jobvite showed that recruiting using online social networks has become a primary channel for companies looking to hire. 83% of respondents say they already use social networks for this purpose or will do it soon. Among the most commonly used social networks the top three are: LinkedIn, used by 78% of companies, Facebook with 55% and Twitter with 45%. For more details, check the free report on Jobvite website.

Only Facebook already has over 500 million active users, with 50% of them accessing their account daily. As much as our existence is increasingly going online, it will get easier to create the personal and professional profile of someone based on the information about that person available on the Internet. Web 2.0, based mostly on user-generated content, can be your friend or your enemy in seeking or keeping a job.

Obviously ,there are information about you on the web which you can control and information that can’t control. Here’s what you can do:

1. Be careful of what comments and what statuses are you posting online.
2. Avoid as much as possible to post online critics about your bosses or colleagues.
3. Avoid uploading inappropriate pictures and if your friends do that in your place, ask them kindly to delete them.
4. Configure your social networking profiles so that your approval is required for any comment or tag on the photos before being made public.
5. Builds a consistent online image. Do not try to appear eager for adventure on Facebook and  highly reliable on LinkedIn. It will not work.
6. Ask for recommendations where this is possible. It is good to have different recommendations: bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Don’t forget that you should also prepare recommendations. Be honest and creative.
7. Make sure that the information you put  in the resume will not be contradicted by the information available online. You will lose credibility.

The Internet has made the world becoming one large community. Basically, everyone “knows” everybody. It is difficult to hide and that, after all, is not a bad thing.

The Dark Cloud of Cloud Computing

How Cloud Computing changed the face of brute-force attacks.

Cloud Computing is the phrase that we loved last year. I don’t think there is any IT conference where the Cloud Computing topic misses completely the agenda. It’s a new paradigm that attempts to solve many of the existing IT problems. There are many advantages for the cloud and I just want to mention: scalability, flexibility, accessibility, redundancy, extraordinary capacity, predictable costs that go to OPEX not CAPEX. The Cloud promises. The trouble is that not only solve our problems but also the problems of individuals with less clean intentions that wander around the global data networks. This extraordinary capacity that can be used at an affordable price, almost unexpectedly, opens the doors for hackers. Let’s get in a few details.

We all use encryption mechanisms and we want to know that our personal data, emails or wireless networks are protected at least to a minimum level of security. Unfortunately, history shows that any encryption method has been defeated sooner or later. It’s just a matter of time. In fact, this is the idea, a reasonable level of encryption is one that requires a long enough time to be decrypted (long meaning at least years or decades). But that length depends on the computing resources available to the attacker.

But what is the promise of Cloud Computing? Computing resources. Anytime, anywhere and at a more or less acceptable price. I read a few days ago that a German security researcher, Thomas Roth, managed to create a little program that runs over the Amazon EC2 Cloud (Amazon Elastic Cloud) that attempts to discover passwords used by wireless networks (WPA-PSK). What’s new with this? Well, nothing, except that it can make 400,000 attempts per second. A staggering amount. The theoretically infinite resources of cloud computing are changing the face of brute force attacks.

What can be done? If you were cautious when choosing passwords, now you can start being paranoid. Do not use simple and predictable words. Use at least three of these character types: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Do not use passwords shorter than 8 characters. And last but not least, change passwords from time to time. I would recommend every 3-4 months but I know nobody will do it so at least change them once a year. Oh, and another thing, do not use the same password everywhere! Rather, install a password manager software that will help you not to lose them. Good luck!

Protecting Online Identity

Information is power. It has always been, but in the digital information age this statement is truer than ever. What is your name, when where you were born, who is your family, where you live, what schools have you done, where you worked, where you spend your holidays, where you shop and what you like to buy, what color you prefer, how you call your dog (or your cat), who are your friends, etc … All this information put together create our overall image, which shows identity and our lives.

Our close friends and family know the answers to most questions above. We like to think we can trust them. And it is healthy to have people, near you, who you can trust and who know you. But how would you feel if someone you have never heard about, that you know nothing about his character, knows the answers to all these questions? Personally I would feel uncomfortable. And I think we should start to feel uncomfortable because there are already organizations that hold this information.

Because I consider it, for now, the most powerful organization that operates online, I will talk about Google. The verb “search” in the context of the Internet is synonymous with Google. I heard quite a few people who do not say “Search the Web!” but directly “Google it!”. There are less syllables … or maybe because it is cool. The reality is that Google is genius in indexing the information available online. The amount of information is almost unimaginable, and Google has created an excellent search tool.

Here we meet the first problem. I do not think there is any particular place on the internet where there is concentrated enough information about me to cause me big problems. But dissipated in various areas of the Internet, there is enough. I’m a bit scared, frankly, to think about how much could now someone about me, if he or she would put together all the information available on the web. And Google can do this quite easily. For now, they use what they know for marketing purposes and they do a lot of money from it. The question is, what else will do with it in the future?

But in addition to collecting information from various web pages, Google has another set of means, more subtle in collecting information. Gmail, a marvelous email. Personally I was very excited when I started using it because they offered IMAP. I loved and still love to see my emails from any computer using email clients. And I do not like to delete any emails! This is the second problem. In the US the Electronic Communications Privacy Act protects our emails confidentiality for only 180 days. Privacy guaranteed level after this period is unclear. However, I do not know if you noticed, how correlated to your interests are the ads appearing on Gmail and Yahoo’s online interfaces (I refer only to these two companies as I have personal experience with both of them.)

Android. Exceptional as a technical achievement. Guess who makes it? Of course you know, Google. The problem? Any call, online search or map lookup can get to the manufacturer. If you smarphone has a built in GPS is even more fun. We always know where you are. And do not tell me that you turn off the GPS. If you will spend the effort to do it, guess what: Google has the right to uninstall and install applications remotely on your smartphone. Legally, under the terms of use. There is no point to get into discussion about 3rd party applications. It’s even messier.

The software collections does not end here. We have Google Chrome, Google Desktop, Picasa, Google Maps, Google Streetview and so on. All of them able to collect information. I do not want to plead against Google, this is not my intention. I will not go into any technical details as there are many online resources on these topics. Use Google and you’ll find them easily


. The problem is that we use all these tools without being aware of what lies behind them. The benefits come with their price.

I wish I could now offer you a simple solution. Unfortunately there is not a simple solution. There are no great technical solutions that protect us. The responsibility rests with us. We must educate ourselves to learn to use tools, provided by online companies, responsibly. I am sticking to pick up the ball at the net in this article, later this year will follow a series on how to survive the digital age. Until then, browse responsibly!