Don’t want your info hacked? Don’t put it online.

4 03 2013

The free and paid note-taking application Evernote was recently hacked, forcing the company to reset passwords for many users, including myself, and to require them to reset their passwords on all of their computers and devices before they could continue to use it. This has caused a small stir and some have chosen to enumerate some of its security failings.

Evernote iconI use Evernote every day and I love it. It is a great way to keep notes and documents synced between my computers and to see them on my iPhone. However, I still acknowledge that this is a web-based service because all of my notes live on a server somewhere else, a server that I neither own nor maintain. Since it is on the web, I approach it with a fair amount of caution. I use the same rule that I use for all my other web-based accounts on Facebook, Twitter, GitHub, Flickr, et cetera. I do not put anything into Evernote that I would not be fine with the whole world seeing. Everything else, I keep on my own drive(s).

The Evernote team certainly has their share of blame, with their lax attitude toward security and even encouraging users to put their tax documents on Evernote. However, the users have their share of blame. If you are willing to put any of your tax documents on a non-governmental web site, you are essentially accepting the consequences of sharing very sensitive documents with the whole world.

It may sound harsh, but there it is. If you do not want to see Evernote leak your personal information, do not give Evernote that information. It will not make it into someone else’s hands unless you give that information to them.


Is Microsoft Office overgrown?

23 11 2009

Microsoft Office has been a staple of academic and professional life for nearly fifteen years. It was introduced in 1989 for the Mac and later in 1990 for Windows. Since then, its feature set has grown. However, it would seem the Office is suffering from a rather advanced case of feature creep. Screen shot 2009-11-23 at 8.27.21 PM.pngOffice 2008 is installed on this MacBook and it takes up nearly a gigabyte of hard disk space. When launching Microsoft Word, it take take as long as 60 seconds to launch.

The cost of the software package is not that great, either. If you buy a license for the Windows version, it could cost you between $150 and $500. If you buy the Mac version, you could end up paying $130 or $350.

Microsoft clearly needs to drop their prices and slim down their products. There are features in Excel and Word that I wouldn’t be able to begin to explain. Most people need a word processor that is a word processor. It should let you write a letter or a paper, save it, and print it. For me, that would cover 99% of my needs. The same goes with spreadsheet programs.

Microsoft Office is looking less and less attractive to me. Programs like Open Office are open source and completely free. Apple’s iWork, a direct competitor of Office on the Mac has a great deal of polish and looks to be designed with average users in mind, rather than businesses.

Microsoft needs to make its software much more minimal and much more nimble. It may be a smart move for them to make if they want to help push resource-limited netbooks that might struggle to run large programs like those found in Office.

Why Flash simply doesn’t work

23 11 2009

In the Indiana University School of Informatics, the Media Arts and Sciences program seems to place a high level of emphasis on Flash and ActionScript development. This is extraordinarily frustrating for someone coming from a programming background.

828iwc9.pngFlash has some fatal flaws that should exempt it from being so prominent on the web. However, like Internet Explorer 6, Flash is one of those things that can make life more difficult for a web developer.

System resource usage
Flash makes heavy use of the client machine’s processor. Every time I go to a web page with Flash in it, my MacBook’s fan cranks up higher than it goes in any other situation. There are benchmarks confirming this. Flash simply does not run efficiently on any platform

Proprietary standard
Open source advocates may howl at Flash’s closed architecture. In this case I would agree and at the same time, not care. Adobe has made it so that the only practical way to create a Flash program is with Adobe’s own proprietary and very costly software. There are alternative Flash players to Adobe’s Flash player. Still, the only way to develop Flash programs is through Adobe. If Adobe wants to create a high barrier to entry to their own product, then that is their call. However, Adobe has limited any video playback in Flash to its own .flv format and none other.

Flash, as a web tool, breaks several accessibility conventions. People with poor vision are essentially left out in the cold. Where screen readers can help a blind person get usable information from an HTML page, it is completely useless with a Flash object embedded in the page. By default, Flash does not have options to change things like saturation, brightness, or color. Flash just is not user-friendly for users of the web who cannot see well.

What the School of Informatics needs to do
I am certainly not advocating that the Media Arts and Sciences program completely abandon Flash. Like any other tool, Flash has its own purposes. However, I feel there is simply too much emphasis placed on it. I am only taking five MAS classes for a cognate and two, possibly three, of them will be heavily Flash classes, even with names like “Multimedia Design” and “Interactive Design.” The MAS program needs to stop teaching as though Adobe Creative Suite is the only way to touch the web.

Flash just is not suitable as a web standard. It uses too many system resources, prohibits open development, and leaves out a large portion of the web-using population. Until these things change drastically, Flash will be a limited tool with an ultimately limited future.

The ethics of human cloning

19 10 2009

As I stood in the the shower this morning, I started to ponder the ethics of human cloning. I have no idea why. My mind tends to be both scattered and extremely active first thing in the morning. This is beside the point.

I was thinking about a Jon Stewart stand up routine that I listened to in which he went on for a bit about human cloning and how truly pointless it really is. As he put it, “There are already six billion people in the world. Clearly, fucking is working.” I would agree on this point. There is no point in cloning an entire human being when we already have unsustainable population growth as it is.

I can, however, see the utility of cloning specific tissues or whole organs for transplant procedures. There is a constant shortage of organ and tissue donors. In this context, human cloning is beneficial and merits increased research and expenditure in this area. On the subject of cloning an entire human being, my opinion is different.

I feel that cloning an entire human being for reproductive purposes would be inhumane. Only 1-2% of all attempted clones are viable and of those, 30% are born with genetic deformities that lead to a low quality of life that most, if not all, of us would find intolerable. I do not believe that the science of cloning has advanced to the point where we can safely and ethically clone human beings or create new organs that are safe for long-term transplant. Cloning is also too expensive and inefficient for widespread use.

Do not get me wrong. I think that the subject of human cloning is fascinating and merits a great deal of research. However, it has not reached the point where it is practical. In this case, practicality is the same as being ethical. Being able to simply grow new, healthy organs safely, effectively, and cheaply is a worthwhile goal and has the potential to greatly expand the human lifespan. It is definitely something that we should pursue.