Category Archives: TECH TALK

TECH TALK: with John Rudy–Courses, Tours, and Books Online

Courses, Tours, and Books Online–Many Free

by John Rudy

For the next couple of months,  we will all be spending a lot more time at home which gives us an opportunity to do things you might have thought about but not tried.  This post is certainly not complete, but it provides some thoughts.

Courses: About 10 years ago, I heard that there was going to be an online course on artificial intelligence taught by two Stanford Professors.   Course “chapters” would come out weekly, and the entire course would stay up for some number of months.  It was free, and you could watch at any time or even multiple times.  There were quizzes (computer graded) and, as I recall, a test at the end.  My memory is foggy, but something like 100,000 people signed up to take the course.  It was very difficult and heavily mathematical and wasn’t really what I wanted, so I skimmed the last half.  About 5000 people finished.  Some viewed that as a failure; I thought that 5000 finishing a course was fantastic.

At about the same time, MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley formed a company called EDX and started producing online courseware.  https://www.edx.org/   There are now something like 2500 courses available from EDX generated by around 140 universities.  Quality varies considerably as does technical depth.  Coursera https://www.coursera.org/  is a competitor with, I think, a similarly sized catalog.  UDEMY is another competitor.  Here is an article that contrasts all three.   https://medium.com/@EADCourses/udemy-vs-coursera-vs-udacity-vs-edx-online-courses-176b13f4bb68

In the last few years, some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have a charging option where a professor grades papers, and some places (I think Carnegie Mellon is one) even use them within a degree program.

I have taken maybe 20 MOOC courses.  Among them, I’ve taken The Science of Cooking from Harvard; Basic Genetics from MIT; Michael Sandel’s Harvard course on Justice;  three courses on the Civil War. One nice feature is that you can take just as much as you want.  If you know nothing about a subject, you might do the first half a dozen lectures and decide that the itch has been scratched.

TED Talks. www.Ted.com  I have listened to dozens of TED talks.  They are generally about 15 minutes long and you can easily look for those in a specific category, those put up most recently, or those that are the most popular.  The most popular ones have had millions of views.  I won’t list my favorites.

MUSEUM Tours.  Most museums and other cultural attractions are closed, but a phenomenon of the last few years has been the development of virtual tours.  They vary greatly in quality and in the amount of verbiage provided (written or aural).  Just start poking around.  Travel and Leisure has identified a dozen at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

Books.  There are lots of ways to get books as all of you know, and virtually everything is available through Kindle or a similar system.  There are many books that are available free, particularly those who have outlived the copyright.  That, of course, includes the “classics”.  My friend Steve Isenberg has compiled a rather long list of sites through which one can obtain free on-line books.  He has agreed to let me share it: https://wiki.toku.us/doku.php?id=free_ebooks

Let’s keep each other posted on good online activities for us to consider during these days at home.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide him with questions,  comments, or suggestions about future tech items to cover. 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: SOCIAL MEDIA MODERATORS

SOCIAL MEDIA MODERATORS:  NOT AN EASY JOB

by John Rudy

Ever since the last presidential election, there has been considerable discussion about what limits should be placed on content made available through Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms.   Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and others have been castigated for not doing enough to delete inappropriate content.  Of course, the word “inappropriate” is not viewed identically by everyone.  And, of course, there is the fact that we do take pride in our right of free speech.  The murders in New Zealand a few months ago added another dimension to this discussion as the government insisted that all video of the murders be instantly deleted.

What has not been discussed is the role that thousands of lowly paid employees perform in order to help these social media platforms to monitor or self regulate the nature of their content.   This article helps us to better understand what these social media moderators must do on a daily basis.

https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/25/18229714/cognizant-facebook-content-moderator-interviews-trauma-working-conditions-arizona

As everyone knows, it is very easy to post material to any of the social media sites. https://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/ says that there are over 500 million Twitter posts per day.  https://blog.microfocus.com/how-much-data-is-created-on-the-internet-each-day/ says that “more than 4 million hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every day, with users watching as many as 5.97 billion hours of those videos on a daily basis.”  In addition, 67,305,600 Instagram posts are uploaded each day.  And over 2 billion people, monthly, become active Facebook users.

It is impossible, at this point, for social media moderators to view all of that material for “inappropriate” content.

Just thought you’d want to know as you think about how this might be constrained.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions for future tech items to cover. 

 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: ARE CELL PHONES SAFE?

ARE CELL PHONES SAFE?

by John Rudy

No.  Cell phones are not safe.

Ever since they were invented, we have heard from supposed “experts” that, because they emit radiation, cell phone use causes cancer, brain damage, or any number of other calamitous conditions.   But that is simply not true.  The FCC has summarized a host of reputable studies which make it clear that there is no conclusive connection between these conditions and mobile phone use.   And when it comes to radiation, what cell phones emit is non-ionizing and low frequency.  Even with the future advent of 5G,  this will still be true.

For those who would like to see material about cell phone emissions, the following two articles are very good.

https://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/fcc-ok-with-current-cell-phone-emission-levels and

https://www.fcc.gov/general/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cellular-telephones

No, the safety issues connected with cell phone use have to do with the fact that people continue to use them when walking, crossing the street, biking, driving, sitting in waiting rooms, or even having dinner with friends and family.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions for future tech items to cover. 

 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: MALWARE

Malware

By John Rudy

Unfortunately, this is a subject that must be discussed with some frequency, and no matter how conscientious you are, there are still risks.  So, my objective here is merely to provide a bit of education.

  1. Can I get infections on both PCs and Macs? Some years ago my son, who had a Mac, said that there were no viruses on Macs.  He was partially correct.  The bad folks who were writing malware (and that is a VERY BROAD WORD and I will not discuss the subtle differences between different kinds) concentrated on PCs.  Why? Because there were more of them, and they were densest in government and large businesses.  If ones objective is to cause problems, go after the folks with lots of computers.  In recent years, there have been some changes; Apple now holds about 13% of the PC market.
  2. It is very important that you have anti-malware software on your computer.  Most computers come with decent packages.  With Windows 10, you now have DEFENDER which, when it first came out, was fairly weak.  Now it considered to be quite strong.  So you might think you’re OK.
  3. In general (there are a few exceptions), you cannot run multiple anti-virus packages simultaneously. They conflict.  That means that, if you purchase Norton and install it, Defender will be de-activated.  Every year, several organizations rate the packages that are available, and the popular ones are generally quite good.  Some vendors provide a free version as well as one you can buy.  The free one always has less capability.  Stick to the one you purchase.
  4. When a new virus appears, all the vendors work very hard to upgrade their products to address it. But there will always be a lag.  One source says “More than 317 million new pieces of malware — computer viruses or other malicious software — were created last year.”  Many are very similar and can be addressed in bulk, but take my word for it that there are a lot out there.  You want to deal with a large company with sufficient staff to address this.
  5. Some bad actors address bugs in software. When vendors are made aware of such a problem, they fix it and put out a new release.  This can take some time. My rule of thumb is to keep all my software, not just the operating system, as up-to-date as possible.  Many products, when they are installed, give you the option to automatically download new releases when they become available.  Some pros disagree with this because sometimes new releases have new holes.  But unless you plan to keep up with all this, just keep your software  up to date.  Think of this as closing your door each time you are told it is open.
  6. There are a number of other products that are useful to run periodically because they provide some other protections. I’ll address them another time.
  7. When you get an email from an unknown source beware. Every email system is different, but usually on the top line it will show the email address from which it was sent.  Today, I received one from events@mg.goldstar.com.  I happen to know that Goldstar is a company from which I buy discount tickets, so I opened the URLs that were referenced.  But if it had come from “goldstam.com” I hopefully would have noticed the typo and just deleted the message.  Recently, I got an email that looked like it came from Fidelity.  The address was something like fidelityadvisor@comcast.net.  I know that if Fidelity is sending me an email that the name after the “@” sign will be Fidelity, and it would not be coming from Comcast.  Thus, I deduced that this message was bogus.  The message said that I had an account problem and it wanted me to click on a url to verify some data.  I didn’t.  I just discarded the email.  Occasionally, I have gotten a note that looked suspicious, and I called up the company at a number I knew was good (not the one they supplied on their message) to find out if the note (paper or email) was legit.  Recently, I received something from one of my credit card companies that looked funny.  I called the number on the back of my credit card and to my surprise found that the document I received was legitimate. But I’m glad I did the extra checking.

Bottom line: be wary.

?Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover. 

TECH TALK with John Rudy: Your Digital Data

Your Digital Data:  Thinking and Planning for Incapacity or Death

All of us have a lot of personal digital data available to us that may not be available to others .  Let’s start with a sample of the various categories:

  • You have files on your home computer, tablet, or smart phone. These may be photos, tax returns, passwords, etc.  In general, nothing will happen to these if you die and (1) IF SOMEONE HAS THE APPROPRIATE PASSWORDS TO ENTER THESE DEVICES and (2) knows the names of the important files.  You probably have thousands of files, and you might not have set up a file structure or named them in a way that is obvious to your heirs.
  • Professionals such as stock brokers, bankers, accountants, and lawyers have your files, and their protection systems are probably robust. In most cases, I suspect that you do not duplicate on your systems the data that they have on theirs, relying on your ability to log into their systems.  But can this data be shared?
  • You might have data with social media environments that your family doesn’t want to lose. Let’s limit ourselves to Facebook for now, but that, of course, is not the only social media platform out there.
  • You have email IDs that could be closed down.

Discussing all these areas in detail is complicated, and you not only have to be proactive, but you also have to understand any pertinent US or state laws that protect this data.  I’m going to provide my thoughts on a number of these issues, but I do not claim to understand all the laws that are in effect.  And some of these laws might differ by locale.

  1. Try to set up your computer folders so they are readable. At the top level. have something called PICTURES or PHOTOS and store all your photos in sub-files under this.  Have a file called TAXES and do a similar thing.  Then document what you have done and ensure that your heirs have a copies.
  2. Have a Password file, with all your passwords. It is best that you use a password manager, but, if not, set up an Excel list.  Keep it hidden, but be sure that your heirs have copies.  If you are sick or die, others may need to get into these accounts.
  3. If you die, some applications will become aware of it. Here is an example that affects me.  MIT provides me with an email address which I can link to whatever normal email I am currently using.  MIT also has a web crawler that looks across the Internet for obits of their graduates.  Six months after I die, MIT will cancel this forwarding service, and my heirs will be unaware that any messages sent to that address will bounce back.  That means that I better make sure that my heirs pay proper attention to all incoming messages for 6 months so that they can inform folks of the proper email address to use in the future.
  4. Companies like Facebook say that they close your page when you die. Is that what you want?  Here is an interesting article on the Facebook situation:  https://www.lifewire.com/facebook-account-after-you-die-4103721 There is even a Facebook app you can download, called “If I die,” that you can set up at any point before your death to control what happens.
  5. Do you want your spouse to have access to your calendar if something happens to you? This might be useful if you would want appointments cancelled or colleagues informed.  Of course, you should be sure that your spouse has access to your address book.
  6. I recently read the following in a newsletter: “Merely scribbling down your passwords on a sheet of paper isn’t always enough. In many cases, your relatives are still legally prohibited from accessing your account without express permission. Thankfully, 41 states have adopted laws that allow you to declare who has access to what data—as long as you include a provision in your will or revocable trust and your power of attorney specifies that they can have access”   Who would think of that?

I am not a lawyer, so I do not know what the legalities are (and they might be different for different states) for allowing your broker or bank or attorney to share data with a designated person.  I have personally addressed this problem by making my heirs trustees for my accounts.  You might ask whether a letter from you is sufficient to provide access (and whether it is effective for both death and disability).

While you are thinking about your digital assets, it might be appropriate to include your heirs’ names on a checking account and on the checks, so that they can pay bills on your behalf if you are incapacitated or die.  Obviously, you must think carefully about who you provide any of this linkage/access to.

And lastly, this is not a one-time endeavor. You should periodically review your approach and attempt to see whether the environment within which you operate has changed.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer (both Tech Talk and the Chef’s Corner) John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover. 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

SEPTEMBER TECH TALK: Saving Money on Gas

SAVING MONEY ON GAS

by John Rudy

Gas is expensive, and it is easy to locate at least two stations near your house where the price difference is as much as $0.25 per gallon.  Of course, the least expensive one may not be so a month later.  What to do?  Examine www.gasbuddy.com

A 20 cent/gal difference (for regular) is about $3 for a fill-up which might result in $100 over the year.  And this is just as useful on a trip where you might think about pulling off (and away from) the highway.  The map below is for places near my house.  See the huge variation.

BOLLI Matters “Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover.  

AUGUST TECH TALK: TSA Pre-Check

TSA PRE-CHECK

by John Rudy

For the last decade the process of getting through an airport has become increasingly onerous.  For some time, TSA has been providing a short-cut if you are willing to shell out $85 for 5 years, meet certain conditions (not being a convict or mentally impaired), and go for a 20-minute interview.  I live in Lexington, and the closest places for me to go for the interview were in Billerica and Waltham, each only about 20 minutes away from my house.  When I went to enroll, each had over 1,000 openings which was quite a surprise.

Go to the enrollment site https://www.tsa.gov/precheck, click on “apply now,” and just follow a series of screens which are well annotated.  Ten minutes later, you have the opportunity to pick your appointment.  They will then send you a text or an email (your choice) confirming the appointment.

An easy process to follow in order to avoid those long, long airport lines.

BOLLI Matters “Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

JULY TECH TALK: WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?

WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?

by John Rudy

Summer tends to be peak travel time, so here’s a tip about safeguarding your wallet–at home or abroad.

I suspect that few of you know exactly what is in your wallet, so if it is stolen or lost, you might have a problem.  But even if you know what cards you have there, do you know the card numbers and you how to contact the organizations so that they can be frozen?

The solution is a small spreadsheet:

Card Description Card Number Contact email Contact Phone
       
       

Then, put it in a place so that, if the wallet is stolen (even in Europe), you can get to the data.  I will leave that part up to you!

BOLLI Matters “Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions, comments, or suggestions for future items on any computer/tech topic .

APRIL TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: FACEBOOK

Remove Third Party Apps from Facebook 

by John Rudy

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Facebook interfaces with many apps that use your Facebook ID as their login.  You know when you sometimes try to log into a site and see something like, “would you like to log in through Facebook?”  This can be helpful.  As with many of my articles, I was triggered to write this by reading Kim Komando’s blog, something I recommend to all.   (https://www.komando.com/)

Facebook is now saying that they will automatically delete apps you have not used in 3 months (we’ll see if that happens), but they are  also giving you a mechanism to delete many app links in bulk.  I did this and found that there were linkages to almost two dozen apps, many of which I knew nothing about.  Here is the process I followed:

  1. Log into Facebook and at the top you will see a triangle .  Click on the triangle
  2. This will give you a pull-down menu (I’m showing a piece of it) and one of the options is “settings”. Click on it.

3.That will bring up a new screen which includes the word “apps”. Click on Apps.  This will bring up a screen with A LOT OF APPS.  There may only be room to show you a portion of them so you can go through the next step multiple times.

To the right of each app is a small box, very hard to see.  Click on those apps you do not need/want and then at the top of the page there is a box called REMOVE.  Click on it, and the app links will be removed.  I removed 23 app links this morning.

  1. On the same screen where you clicked on APPS there is a place to click on PRIVACY. There are eight options you might want to look at to determine whether you want to limit who can see what you have.  Of course this restriction didn’t seem to hold when Facebook provided user data to a third party.

There is a lesson here for all of this:  anything you put on the computer, and that includes all emails you send or receive, texts and pictures you send or receive, should be assumed to be in the public record.  This is why I have recommended that you put a freeze on your credit bureau accounts, and that you use credit cards NOT debit cards.  The credit card companies will protect you if someone steals your card.  When I use a credit card in a restaurant, I ensure that it stays where I can see it, and is not taken to a back room for processing.  Same at gas stations.  Today, we all need to exercise caution.

BOLLI MATTERS Tech Talk feature writer, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402

MARCH TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: EMAIL

Email Issues

Some Advice from John Rudy

I have said before that you need to be careful when dealing with emails.  I’ll go through a number of issues here, of widely varying importance, but you should take each seriously.

  • Reread your email before you send it. Some email systems have spell or grammar checkers (and other associated products can be acquired).  If they don’t, it is still amazing how many stupid errors you discover by rereading what you have written.
  • Make sure you know who you are sending something to. This may sound obvious, but if you get an email from, say, a Yahoo group, the default might be “reply all.”  Maybe you would prefer that your response only go to the sender or to another individual.  Many years ago, I remember saying something like “what a stupid email” and sending it before I realized it went to about 400 people.  Once an email is sent it cannot be stopped.
  • When you receive an email, you think you know from whom it came. In many cases, if you hover your cursor over the TO name and press the right key on your mouse, you can see the sender’s address.  Other times, it will be posted at the top of your message.  Here is one that I received from Goldstar that looks legitimate:

On the other hand, here is a message that I purportedly got fromWells Fargo You should be very careful before clicking on a URLyou are unsure of.  If I thought that maybe it was legit, I would have called my Wells Fargo broker to inquire.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Look at the sending address.  Just a Comcast address, and the person who sent it has an odd name.  I was positive that this message was NOT legitimate.   The message then went on to sa:

And it wanted me to click on the URL it provided.  That would be a really bad thing to do!  (Note that clicking on the address above will not connect.)

  • Sometimes, scammers are really tricky. Here is one that Kim Komando references on her blog.  Doesn’t it look real?  It sure does, but this technique is call phishing: “Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.” From Wikipedia.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
“Tech Talk” writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)