The secrets of YouTube

March 13th, 2015

YouTube has come a long way from its origins as a place to look at kittens and home videos of people’s dogs. There’s a multimillion dollar industry based around it, a new generation of media stars who got their start on the channel and its connection with Google and its ubiquity, to say nothing of how easy it is to embed, mean it gets a lot of use for business purposes too.

With that in mind, you’re probably not getting the very best out of your Youtube experience. Here are a few ways to get the normal stuff done faster – and a couple of tricks you probably didn’t even know were possible!

1: Space Bar

Most of us know that the space bar is play/pause on YouTube. If you want to watch something in slow motion, though, hold the space bar down! This is really useful for detailed how-tos.

2: Jump Around!

J jumps you back 10 seconds in the video. L jumps you forward 10 seconds. No mouse required. You can also use K as play/pause, if you’re watching a video entitled ‘how repair space bar.’

The arrow keys fast forward and rewind, and the number keys jump to percentage locations in the video: 1 is 10%, 5 50%, 0 the beginning.

These don’t work in fullscreen mode, by the way.

3: Lean Back!

…is the name of an app that allows you to turn YouTube into a keyboard-only experience with a totally new interface that can be conveniently browsed with only the arrow keys and ‘enter.’ This doesn’t seem to work on Macs, though.

4: Do What You Feel!

YouTube has a hidden feature called Moodwall (yes,I’m aware that we’re moving away from tricks that are useful in the enterprise, but I thought you’d want to know). Moodwall lets you select your mood from a sidebar. YouTube then shows you videos appropriate to your mood. If you disagree, double click on the mood you chose, and the videos will all change.

5: Ride the Snake

OK, so now we’re moving from ‘not useful in the enterprise’ to ‘not useful at all,’ and it’s also not really a secret – it’s even on YouTube’s Wikipedia page. On any video you’re watching, pause it and hold down the left or right arrow key for a few seconds. Then press the up arrow key to start the game, and hey presto! Your computer and YouTube together have created the ‘snake’ game that made Nokia owners the world over miss public transportation throughout the early 2000s.

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The worst passwords of 2014 – and what we can learn from them

March 11th, 2015

2014 was the year of the leaky, hacked, unsecure internet – the year we all came face to face with the fact that our details aren’t safe. And that harsh lesson really didn’t sink in. Most hacking is done through old-fashioned channels like email fraud, but when passwords are leaked, it often turns out there was no need, to judge by some of these.

Password management firm SplashData released its list of last year’s worst passwords,and they’re exactly as bad as you can imagine. The company got its data by analysing the 3 million or so passwords that were leaked last year, and arranged them in league order of most to least common. Of course, the more common your password the easier it is to guess – but when it’s both really common and really weak, it makes you wonder why hackers bother to steal it when they could just guess.

The top 5 offenders

These are the 5 most common leaked passwords of 2014:

1: 123456
2: password
3: 12345
4: 12345678
5: qwerty

Yes, seriously.

Lessons to learn

First, never ask IT why your password has to be 14 characters long!
Second, look at what these characters did and do the opposite to create a strong password.

These passwords all display a total lack of thought. Faced with a decision – which password? – these people tapped a few keys without thinking it through at all. So, consider: any keys that are already next to each other on the keyboard are a bad choice, so is a long numerical sequence like ‘1234.’ And ‘password’? Also not good.

Widen the net: your name? Out. Your company’s name? Also a bad choice. And if you live in LA, ‘Lakers’ isn’t too great either. What unites these bad choices is that they’re easy to guess if someone knows one other thing about you. For the same reason, your partner or children’s names aren’t good choices.

Creating a strong password

Strong passwords are strong because they’re really hard to guess. Using things like the letter ‘3’ for ‘e’ or the number ‘4’ for the word ‘for’ are now predictable. Instead use a password using unconnected words with symbols, caps and numbers scattered throughout. It’s also a good idea to have a different password for each account: having the same keys for car, garage, house and office obviously spells trouble, and the same logic applies here.

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5 Projects IT Pros Need to Stop Putting Off

March 6th, 2015

Anyone who’s ever seen an Eisenhower square knows how easy it is to do urgent-but-unimportant stuff today, and put off important-but-non-urgent stuff until tomorrow. We all do it. The danger with that approach is that projects that are actually vital are always on tomorrow’s to-do list – never today’s. Here are 5 IT projects it’s time to shunt up the list to job #1.

1: Software updates – especially in end devices

Increasingly, inhouse IT departments are moving towards a ‘push’ model of updating software, one that distributes software updates to devices on the network from a central point. But that transition’s far from over and in some IT departments it’s still necessary to physically go out and update software. If the machines that need updating are in distant corners of the company buildings IT can end up supporting four different releases of the same software.

2: Job descriptions

Jobs exist now that didn’t even two years ago. Go back six years and the landscape has changed unrecognizably. But when’s the last time job descriptions in your department were updated? Go back over them and make sure they’re up to date or you’ll find that when you need to know who’s in charge of cloud issues or social media outreach it turns out that officially, no-one is.
3: Spare parts and old equipment
Below the top layer, there’s probably equipment in the back room for repairing external dial-up modems, spare 5½” floppy disk drives and a couple telegraph keys near the back. It makes sense to keep this equipment to cannibalize it for spare parts or in case it’s needed, but unless you’re building a steampunk laptop in your spare time some of this stuff just needs to go. Getting round to this job isn’t always easy, but managing it at least once a yea shouldn’t be too hard.

4: Asset inventorying

Asset inventorying software has been on the market for a decade or more, but many IT pros still don’t have a clear understanding of how many of their servers are idle or underutilized. An asset inventory can identify these and help you decide whether there’s slack in the system or whether you’re running servers that just can’t cope with modern demands and need to be replaced.

5: Vendor agreements

IT departments are often missing something vital, despite all that spare equipment: contracts. Many are short as many as a third of all the contracts that cover their agreements with their vendors. If these are missing, ask vendors for copies and check what they cover. Your relationship with the vendor may have changed, or the type of provision on offer might have moved with the times. Make sure your contracts are complete and up-to-date.

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5 Tips to Do More With Your PDF Files on Google Drive

March 4th, 2015

Google Drive started out as simply an online viewer for docs and spreadsheets. Now, it’s evolved into a full-blown online office suite. And just like desktop office suites, many of us don’t know how to use it to its full potential. PDFs remain one of the most popular document formats but they can be hard to manipulate. Drive can help.

Save to Drive, straight from Chrome

Google’s own-brand browser is already a pretty solid PDF viewer. But did you know you can save web pages as PDFs directly from Chrome to Drive?

Click on the ‘printer’ icon in the bottom right corner (you have to be logged into Chrome), then scroll down to the ‘Google cloud print’ section and click on ‘Save to Google Drive.’ Done!

Search text from PDFs with OCR

OCR is Optical Character Recognition, and you can use it to search PDFs in Google Drive. Right click on a PDF and select ‘open in Google Docs,’ then save i in Google Docs. Bingo: you have a searchable document of your PDF content.

Export any Doc to PDF format

In any document on Google Drive that you’d like as a PDF, simply click ‘file,’ then ‘download,’ and select ‘PDF document. Done! And if you synch it immediately by saving it to the local Google Drive folder you won’t even have to manually upload the file back into Google Drive.

Scan to PDF with Google Drive’s mobile app

It’s frustratingly Android-only, but Google’s mobile Drive app is still impressive. It allows you to scan handwritten notes or pages from books (copyright, people), and automatically detects page edges and optimises contrast to bring out the text. Once you’ve taken the picture, there are editing options: select the plus sign in the lower left corner of the app screen and you can collate several scanned pages into a single PDF, then move onto the ‘check mark’ symbol to save the whole thing to Google Drive.

Manipulate PDFs in Drive with add-ons

Google Drive is partly so great because of what i can do, and partly because of what it can do with other apps. So if you want to split PDFs up, try PDFSplit! Open your PDF in Drive, then look in ‘open with,’ and select PDFSplit! From there you can break a PDF up any way you like and resave the pieces. Want to merge PDFs instead? Use PDF Mergy. Select your PDFs, right click them, then hover over ‘open with’ and select PDF Mergy. Finally, PDF is a popular format for forms and contracts, and it’s useful to be able to sign a PDF. HelloSign and DocuSign both plug easily into Drive and let you import or draw your signature into a PDF.

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5 Reasons Why Telecommuting Is a Win-Win

February 27th, 2015

Obviously ‘teleworking’ covers people like traveling sales operatives who’ve always worked that way, but an increasing number of tech and IT staff are spending their working lives outside the office too, with clerical and support staff not far behind. It’s a win-win situation that both companies and workers like.

You’d expect companies to hate telework and employees to love it. For employees, it means a couple of hours, at least, rescued from the daily commute, and a chance to work in their pyjamas or with the stereo up loud – not options at most people’s offices.

Problem is that Photoshop is far from inexpensive. A quick online scan will show that newer versions of this image-editing program can run higher than $600.

But don’t companies hate the idea of losing control over their employees? How can you check on a worker if they’re not even there? And doesn’t remote working lead to slackness?

Not everyone sees it that way. According to a report issued late last year, the US government now thinks about 47% of its employees – over a million people – are eligible for telecommuting. So what’s so great about it, and how is everyone a winner?

Telecommuting eliminates wasted time

Sure, some people work on the way to work. Most people sit in traffic, for an average of an hour each way. That’s wasted time for everyone, and telecommuting gives it back.

Telecommuting cuts costs for companies – but not wages for workers

Workers who work at home don’t need offices, cutting down on overheads – rent, heating, insurance and all the other costs associated with property. But they still make the same salary.

Remote workers are less stressed and more productive

Remote workers and in-office workers agree that teleworkers are less stressed, sleep more, drive less – and get more done. Less stress, more productivity? Win-win.

Absenteeism is a good thing

Americans work longer hours than any other industrialized country, but we don’t get more done. There’s a culture of ‘presenteeism’ – if you’re in the office early and late, you’re a good employee. ‘Part-timer’ is used as a slur. Get rid of that and ‘absent’ workers can be judged on their quality and productivity, not on how much time they spent on the job. That’s better for everyone.

Absent doesn’t mean out of reach

Much of the time in modern offices, people communicate by email, cloud or messaging services anyway. If you’re going to email someone, and get an email back, what difference does it make where they are? If you’re driving into work to open and reply to emails, doesn’t that defeat the point?

Teleworking means businesses spend less money and workers do more work, while workers have a better quality of life and more control over their working time.

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The 3 Biggest Risks of Shadow IT – and What CIOs can do about them

February 24th, 2015

Shadow IT, the use of unsanctioned cloud and mobile devices by staff, is a growing sector – but while the Bring Your Own Device philosophy has caught on fast, not everyone appreciates the risks to data and workflow it can bring.

When staff members begin to bring their own devices into work, it can spell positive changes for the IT world and a leap in efficiency for the company. Everyone’s using cloud and mobile instead of sometimes-clunky proprietary systems, and everyone can get on with what they need to do, wherever they are and whatever device they want to use. Sounds great, because it is.

There is one problem, though. Staff who don’t have IT training often don’t realise the security risks, so they’ll move data about over clouds or between devices without proper security measures.

Then there’s the risk to workflows. It’s great when everyone uses efficient cloud-based apps to do work, but what happens when it all comes together and none of the pieces fit because everyone’s used a different app, or a different spreadsheet format?

Finally there’s the problem of everyone using different distribution networks and a hundred different versions of a document getting passed around, because there’s no centralised system in place. So what can CIOs do about these problems?

Data security training

CIOs need to offer staff an appropriate level of security training so everyone understands that data has to be secure – company IT systems contain customer data, proprietary data, financial data and employee data and all this must be kept secure. Strong passwords, password protection on individual documents and an awareness of the porous nature of public clouds and mobile devices contribute to the success of secure shadow IT.

Workflows

Shadow IT can be great for the individual employee. But when staff bring documents that are in mutually unintelligible formats to the same meeting, everyone ends up sending a lot of time figuring out how to synch it all up. How to avoid this? Institute standardised workflow systems throughout the organization that can be accessed (securely!) through shadow IT.

Too many versions

Devices that rely on capacitive touch screens tend to have the sharpest image quality. Capacitive touch screens are coated with a material that sends a continuous electrical current across the sensor. Fortunately, the human body is also a type of electrical device. This means that when you touch the screen you absorb some of the current. The device registers this disruption, causing it to send information to its controller. The device will then perform the action that you requested.

Person 1 emails person 2 a document, who alters it and emails their version to person 3. Person 1 emails person 3 their version too. Which is the right one? Expand that process across time and multiple workflows companywide and you have a recipe for chaos. The solution is to build an efficient workflow structure that enables multiple people to access a single version of the document or spreadsheet and manipulate it without duplicating it, so there’s only one ‘version’.

In every case, the best thing CIOs can do is to start by accepting that shadow IT is here to stay and staff are going to use it. Then it’s about giving staff the tools and knowledge they need to use it effectively.

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The Best 3 Alternatives to Basecamp

February 20th, 2015

Basecamp is 37Signals’ flagship project management software. Originally created as a tool to let freelancers manage projects, it’s gradually added functionality and customers until it’s now the most popular content management software solution out there.

It’s not all roses for Basecamp, though. Because it’s so simple, many people complain that even basic functions like the ability to assign tasks to multiple people or even time tracking, are absent. And unlike when Basecamp was first thought of, there’s some serious competition now.

1: ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab comes in web-based and self-hosted, and it has some pretty heavyweight customers, including Stanford University and the British BBC, as well as Adobe. It’s integrated with Xero for time tracking and invoicing, and starts at $25 a month for a package that gets you 5 users, 5GB of storage and unlimited projects. If you want unlimited users, projects and storage you can go up to the $299 per month premium package, and you can even buy an self-hosted version of the software for $499 and put it on your own servers.

2: Asana

Asana promises ‘teamwork without email’ (subtext: project management without Basecamp). It offers Google Drive integration, and the ability to forward emails to Asana and have it turned into a task automatically, and it also offers a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts to shave off seconds. Asana is free for the first 15 users and goes up to $50 per month for 16-30 users, and tops out at $800 for 100 users. There are unlimited projects and tasks, as well as private projects and teams.

3: Freedcamp

Freedcamp is designed to emulate Basecamp: it’s an alternative because it’s a free knock-off, ‘the closest free alternative you will ever get to Basecamp,’ in the company’s own words. Freedcamp is good enough to number ABC, Chase Bank and even Google among its customers, so its simple, Basecamp-like user interface and array of group communication tools that include a wall, browser alerts and social media integration means it’s basic but effective. In reality Freedcamp is only free if you’re happy with just 20MB of storage. If you want more, you’ll have to upgrade, to 1GB of storage for $2.49 per month or unlimited storage for $39.99 per month.

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The Most Innovative Tech Products of 2014 – and What To Look Out For This Year

February 18th, 2015

2014 was a killer year for innovative tech products – some of which represented improvements on existing technology, while others pointed ahead to whole new worlds. Here are the top X innovative tech products of 2014 – plus X to watch out for in the year ahead!

1: Virtual reality

If Oculus Crescent sounds like a transformer, that’s appropriate. The Oculus Crescent Cove VR headset is the latest offering from the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2bn in 2014. VR has been a perpetual flop for tech companies, but Oculus might be the ones to make a go of it, especially now the graphics and other tech is in place to support it. And with Facebook’s reach behind it, we might be hearing a lot more about it in 2015. (Alternatively, Google Cardboard offers a different take on things…

2: Virtual currency

Bitcoin came of age in 2014, and mobile payment methods like Apple Pay and similar offerings from Google and Paypal are set to make us forget, not only cash, but physical payment of any kind, even credit cards. Being able to pay directly with a smartphone sounds pretty innovative now, but by next year, it might just be normal.

3: The best of everything, ever

Apple made a desktop with the best screen ever, its near-15-million-pixel, 27 – inch iMac Retina display. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 has the best screen that’s ever been in a smartphone. And the iPhone 6 has the best camera ever put in a smartphone, while Android got enough of a reboot to make it a serious contender. Even already extant technologies got way better in 2014.

4: And for my next trick…

What does the coming year have up its sleeve?

Microsoft is releasing Windows 10, designed as a multiplatform OS that will work on smartphones, laptops, desktops, and even the Xbox. It’s also got a bundled browser that isn’t Internet Explorer!

Samsung expects to be able to ship a bendable phone by the end of the year. The company foresees mass-producing flexible displays before the end of 2015. And, finally, hot on the heels of the world’s largest iPad comes… a really huge, 12-inch iPad, the iPad Pro, blurring the line between laptops and tablets.

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What if that’s your last phone?

February 13th, 2015

The ubiquity of mobile phone technology makes the idea that you could be holding your last ever phone seem slightly ridiculous. Barring catastrophes, why would we suddenly stop using a technology we so evidently love? Because we basically already have.

What is a phone exactly?

We still call the devices we use so much ‘phones,’ but it’s increasingly obvious that the difference between a phone, a phablet and a tablet is… whatever manufacturers can get us to say it is. The device you can send your emails from, browse the web via apps or browsers or both, take pictures and communicate via instant message services, will also let you make voice calls. And that’s about all it has in common with the old cord-and-handset machines we used to call phones. (Speaking of which, as of 2013, about 30% of Americans didn’t have a landline at all!)
What do we actually use our phones for?

The telephone is for talking to people. But increasingly, that doesn’t describe our phones at all. what we actually do with them is move data. And the amount we’re moving is huge and growing.

Something else that seems to be huge and growing is the phones themselves, and the same cause is at the root of both effects. That would be the 4G technology known as LTE. LTE lets you move gigantic quantities of data over 4G networks, but it’s energy-hungry. Hence the size of phones, which are growing to accommodate bigger batteries in back and bigger screens in front.

Even when you do make a phone call, it’s not really a phone call

You talk into a phone and your voice is turned into electronic signals and transmitted. That was true when you had to wind phones up and it’s still true. but the way it’s done has changed fundamentally. 3G and older cell networks used dedicated connections to move your voice: virtual landlines, preserving the phone-ness of phone calls. But 4G and LTE don’t do that. Your voice becomes data packets, just like the rest of the internet. Even when you make a phone call, you’re really using a technology that has more in common with Facetime or Skype than with anything Alexander Graham Bell would have recognised. You might already have had your last phone.

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The 3D Printer That Makes Custom Electronics

February 11th, 2015

Could anything be more Zeitgeisty than a 3D printer that can produce things to fit into the Internet of Things?

The first generation of 3D printers are mostly used for producing small items. But Jennifer Lewis of Harvard University has helped create a new kind of 3D printer, one that can print electronics.

The Voxel8 printer

Voxel8 only bega developing a product last year, but the printer is the result of more than 8 years of research by Ms. Lewis and her Harvard colleagues. Right now, it can’t quite print things as sophisticated as a smartphone. But it is able to make quite complex gadgets, like helicopter drones.

The printer costs about $10, 000 and is aimed firmly at professionals, not the domestic market. Currently, Voxel8 is trying to get feedback from designers to optimize the product for them.

Talking about the future of manufacturing

The Voxel8 team foresees their technology being used around the world. Ms. lewis says that in the next decade, ‘rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD (Computer Aided Design) files and then you’re going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and then directly products come out.’

Until now 3D printers have largely been used by hobbyists. That doesn’t mean they’re not being used industrially – in China, they’re 3D printing houses, and in the USA and Europe car parts and, notoriously, firearms are getting the treatment too. But 3D printing is especially good for electronics.

Why are Voxel8 betting on a 3D future for electronics?

Voxel8’s co-founder, Daniel Oliver, says, ‘for 3D printing to push the limits of what’s done now, it has to solve key issues that current manufacturing technologies don’t.’ For electronics, that’s the duality of the circuitry and the physical object. Currently, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes and sizes and the designer’s job is to fit them into the product. With 3D printing technology, the device and its electronics can be manufactured at the same time.

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