A Business Technology Place

The local library and my reading habit

Alexandra Alter wrote an article in the NY Times this week about technology and our reading habits. Alter’s piece does a good job of reviewing differences between print and electronic readers as well as some changes in recent years in the publishing industry.  Like Alter, I prefer eBooks because of the convenience, searchability, and portability. But the base audience in her article is people who buy books not borrow them. She didn’t make one mention of the public library.

Generally speaking, I search my local library first when I want to read a book. I’ve used print, electronic, and audio versions of books in the past. I know library borrowing isn’t for everyone but here are a few reasons why I prefer it:

  1. I rarely go back and read books of fiction or non-fiction twice. So owning a copy on my bookshelf at home or in an eLibrary doesn’t provide meaningful value to me. If I borrow the book and want to take notes then I use a service like Evernote.com to keep thoughts and learnings.
  2. When I read for leisure, I don’t have to have the book right at the moment when I want to read it. I don’t mind waiting until I can either go to the library or when a copy becomes available in the eLibrary. It’s just not an urgent matter.
  3. The eBooks from local library are available through the Amazon Kindle reader or through another eReader app on my tablet. Checking-out an eBook or audio book is as simple as buying it.
  4. If the physical copy of the book is at another branch in the library system not close to me, then they will deliver it to my local branch for free.
  5. There’s no buyer’s remorse with library books. I’ve started a few books that I didn’t like because of the story-line, characters, or writing style. Since I didn’t pay for the book, it was very simple to stop reading and move-on to the next book.

To be fair, borrowing library books does have some frustrations. Availability is limited by the number of copies purchased by the system and number of borrowers ahead of me. This means popular books can have wait times for over a year. If this happens, I have to decide if I’m willing to wait, if I want to purchase it, or if I should search for another book. I usually just search for another book. There are lots of stories to be read.

So technology has altered my reading habits somewhat. I prefer an eBook but will read the paper version without issue if that is what is available. I should also mention that taking an eBook to the beach makes me nervous because of the sand and water around the electronic devices. This is one setting where I prefer a paper book.

Onward and Upward!

 

Password Management System

How do you manage your passwords?

Electronic password managers were created with the goal to help all of us have a more structured approach to storing and retrieving our passwords. But not everyone uses electronic password managers because they don’t know about them, don’t trust them, or because they require extra steps when it is time to authenticate with a service. Many people still rely on sticky notes and paper notebooks.  

I’m convinced passwords are one the largest nuisances in life for most people. It’s easy to see why. Different sites have different password rules and modern password complexity rules require us to use with specials characters, numbers, and capital letters. We can’t reuse password, they have to be a minimum length, and they can’t contain parts of our name or email. I’m dizzy already.

There are two problems with this system:

  1. The rules are not our natural way of processing language and thinking. Result? Passwords are not easy to create and not easy to remember.
  2. To keep up with passwords effectively we all need a system. Sticky notes by the keyboard are not accepted.

Password managers; the good and the bad.

One system to use for credentials management is an electronic password manager tool. There are numerous tools available on the market. Some of them are locally installed on a computer while others are cloud based.

The good

  • Easily searchable
  • Accessible from wherever you are
  • Encrypted text
  • Password auto-creation to match site complexity rules.
  • Accessible only those with whom you share or that have your credentials.

The bad

  • One key to rule them all
  • Cloud based services are targets for attack and exposed to more thieves on the internet
  • The security of electronic sites and applications are frequently exposed for new weaknesses

Don’t lose site of what is at stake.

Regardless of how you feel about electronic password tools compared to a paper based system, don’t lose site of the importance of having a secure system. It’s your data and your life. Identity theft is both harmful and disruptive. Having a password management system can be a time saver too. When you need access to your data you don’t want to spend time looking through drawers and notebooks.

It appears password complexity rules may be changing in the near future as research is showing password length is better than complicated rule sets. So making passwords longer without special characters is a win for both usability and security. In the meantime, make sure you create a safe system.

Onward and upward!

Built-in automobile technology is distracting our driving

We’ve all seen the consequences of texting and driving.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has education content for public awareness campaigns. But, do you think we have a myopic focus on cell phones as the device providing the distraction? Touch screens and electronic functions built-in the latest automobiles can provide as much temptation and distraction as cell phones.  Cars today come with a variety of electronic options including GPS navigation, bluetooth audio, streaming music services, and yes even texting.

My car has a text function that is part of the bluetooth handsfreelink feature. The feature only shows messages when the car is stopped. However, it will read messages out loud using a text-to-speech module when the car is in motion. I use the physical controls to manipulate the function. But wait, there’s more. This feature also allows me to select pre-written replies using the physical knobs in front of me.

I have used this feature in the past, but I’m left to wonder, why is this legal? There isn’t much difference from texting and driving from a phone keypad.  I have to take my eyes off the road to read the display, turn a knob, and select a choice. That’s a distraction. That’s eyes off the road even if only for a second or two.

It’s clear the boundaries are not clearly defined when it comes to safety and automobile features. It certainly feels like automobile manufacturers are getting a pass for what a car owner would not get in the eyes of the law.  I support free enterprise and profits so car makers can sell more units, but the lack of laws and regulations are too light in this area. It feels like a few tragedies waiting to happen.

A good start would be no active text functions when the car is not in park.  Period.

Be smart on the road.

Onward and upward!

Finding Felix

It all started with a tweet.

Last week my local public library tweeted “GCPL has the solution to your quest for genealogy information….#HeritageQuest”.  Squirrel!

The message captured my interest and before I knew it, I was hooked on a modern day treasure hunt for information on my family lineage. 25 years ago I did some basic family research at the state archive building and found census records back to 1910. With the Heritage Quest tool from the library, I was able to view my father’s family line in the census records in every census back to 1840 (except 1890 because most original records were destroyed by fire).  Time travel never felt so real.

Digitization of records.

The big win is the census records are now digitized with metadata. Unlike 25 years ago, when I was searching Microfilm, I was able to complete a wide array of searches very quickly. I could use first name, last name, birth year, death year, places lived, and family members to help narrow search results. Linked to each family unit was the scanned image of the original census document for visual confirmation. Using this new capability I was able to quickly find census record data back to 1880 for my father’s family line. But I wasn’t done. Felix awaited.

One challenge with the metadata is sometimes the interpretation of the original handwriting is wrong and sometimes the original census data has inconsistencies in what is recorded. There were variations in spellings, middle initials, and ages that made it difficult for me to get a match in a few of the years. So I had to examine the data in-context to find matches (approximate ages, children names, place of recording, etc.) Basically, the tools of the digital age combined with manual human intellect to solve a puzzle.

Finding Felix.

1840 Census Document

Before this past week, I knew the name of my great grandfather and great-great grandfather (from my great aunt while she was living). I also knew the cemetery where my great grandmother was buried. Using the cemetery information I was able to locate her grave using the site findagrave.com. At the bottom of her gravesite record was a comment from a lineal relative of mine previously unknown to me (a distant cousin). I emailed her a question asking if she knew the name of the father of my great-great father. Within hours I had the name, Felix.

Using this new information, I went back to the census search. Within a few hours I found Felix in the census records for 1880, 1870, 1860, 1850, and 1840! Hello Felix.

Digging required.

To get to the next generation, I’ll need data from additional sources. The 1790 through 1840 census records only show head of household by name and then headcounts for other family members. I was able to match Felix in 1840 because I knew the age of his spouse and children in the 1850 census.

Over the last four days, I’ve seen the power of metadata searching, optical character recognition and digitization of written records. I just hope I can find Felix through another historical document to tell me a little more. It’s a treasure hunt for another footprint in the past. It’s a story waiting to be told.  

Onward and upward!

Got Password? Can Microsoft simplify?

Who makes the rules?

Hackers love them. Security auditors like to engineer them. The average person hates them. IT support teams use them for jokes. Our computer passwords have an identity crisis! Do passwords protect us or are they just a nuisance to our everyday lives?  I find weekly articles about how hackers can crack most passwords in minutes. For some thieves, cracking a password isn’t enough fun, so just steal them. It seems the value passwords bring for protecting information is diminishing.

Industry experts created password complexity rules we should all follow to make the passwords more secure. That makes it a little harder for hackers to crack a password but does not make them theft-proof. Unfortunately, it also drives many people without a password system to write down their password on paper. Who can remember words with all those special characters and capitalizations? In essence, to get the user more secure the rules made their system less secure.

Businesses implement password complexity rules to meet a couple of constraints: a security control they are given and limitations from the software system they are using (i.e. field length, characters allowed). The result for all us is an inconsistent set of rules to govern passwords for all the systems we use. Is it 8 characters or 10? Does it require special characters? Can I reuse a password I used two years ago?

What you know and have.

Several years ago, a popular method for authentication security was created to offset the weaknesses of a single password system. Two-factor authentication is based on the idea of something you know and something you have. So for example, I know a password and I have a phone where you send me a second code. Or I know a password and I have a physical security card I can tap or read.

Now, Microsoft is experimenting with removing the password requirement completely. Their new system would make life easier for their customers because it doesn’t require a pesky password for data access. Well kind. It requires a pin from the phone to get access. I see this as a hybrid two-factor authentication. Something I know, my phone PIN. Something I have, my mobile device.  If I lose or misplace my phone they say there is an option to revert to a standard password. Would you use this?

Human behavior.

Protecting data with authentication systems is a good study in human behavior. We protect the data because we don’t want others to see it. We protect access because some people steal data. We develop authentication systems that try to find a balance between human usability and password complexity. I can see this as a college class. Psyc 231 – Human behaviors for data access and protection.

Got password?

Photo Credit: Thomas Au via Creative Commons. https://flic.kr/p/dT3HaA