Wednesday, December 10, 2014

To Update Or Not To Update

Since writers today must use a computer to write, keeping the computer in working trim matters. Sure, you may scratch out your first draft on a yellow pad using a pencil sharpened with your Bowie knife, but eventually you have to put your prose into a program on your computer. Which means you have to keep that computer running in the way that's comfortable for you. Our question today: should you update your system or not update your system?

Bad things can happen either way. If you don't update, your operating system becomes a bigger and softer target for malware of all kinds, because most updates fix at least a few security holes. But if you do update, there's always the small risk of turning your critically-important computer into a box of metal and components of more use as a boat anchor. It's happened to me before: run an update and suddenly your computer is worthless. Long hours of hard work can revive such a system, but it's painful.

Let's compare the odds: Do update, and keep your security holes to a minimum at least as far as Microsoft or Apple knows. There will still be ways for miscreants to slip malware into your system, but they will be forced to find new ways. When your system is updated, the older and easier security holes have been patched. Your system is as safe as Microsoft of Apple can make it, and is bolstered by whatever anti-malware software you use. Odds of an update crashing your system? Extremely long. You can find the Windows Update screen shown above in the Control Panel.

Don't update, and your system will start acquiring malware infections within minutes of being attached to the Internet. Minutes. No, that's not an exaggeration. Odds your computer will be infected soon? 100 percent.

So it sounds like there's really not a choice, because not updating is a recipe for malware infection and ultimate disaster. But that's not completely true. The third option few people consider? NEVER update your personal writing computer, but NEVER connect it to a network.

If you have, say, an older laptop with a great keyboard that has software full of macros and shortcuts to help you write, you can skip the update process on one condition: you never connect it to any network anywhere. That means in your home, your office, Starbucks, the library, anywhere: no connection to any other computer or network, period.

How do you get files from your "frozen in time" computer? USB drive, but be sure you only copy files from your frozen computer to your connected computer. Never download a file from your connected computer to the frozen system, or you may import malware as well. Never upgrade the operating system or your writing software. Never loan this computer to anyone for any reason.

My advice? Update your OS and software applications whenever requested, because I believe that causes less trouble in the long run. But if you love love love your personal writing computer and never want it to change, you can chose the "not update" option. Just do so carefully.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Security Questions? Beethoven

When Sarah Palin's email account was hacked a few years ago, the hacker used social engineering, not technical prowess. By pretending to be Palin and requesting a password reset, the hacker answered the security questions by using publicly available knowledge about Palin. You know those security questions on many sites: various questions like home town, school mascot, dog's name, first car, and so on. You may not be as famous (or infamous) as Sarah Palin, but your accounts can be hacked via security questions as well. Take a look at your friends on Facebook and notice how much information used for security questions are in their profiles.

The answer? Don't play their game, play yours. There is NEVER a good reason to put your CORRECT personal information on Facebook or anywhere else on the Internet.

Next time you see a set of security questions, use the same answer over and over and over. For instance, as a musician, I may use Beethoven for every answer. And I mean EVERY answer.

Favorite movie dog: Beethoven
Favorite musician: Beethoven
Historical figure you'd most like to meet: Beethoven.
Security Questons? Beethoven
Image courtesy of zachflanders on flikr

See, those make sense.Sometimes your chosen word will. Other times? Nonsense.

First car: Beethoven
High school mascot: Beethoven

Pick a word, name, place, or made-up word (not your password) that you can always remember. Use it for every entry on all your websites that demand security questions. After the change, no one will ever guess your security hints.

PS: The Tyler Writer's Workshop & Conference starts in two days. Here's where you SIGN UP.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fingers tingling? Try a new keyboard and trackball

When family members try to use my computer, they complain about the ergonomic keyboard and trackball. Mostly they complain about the trackball because it's on the wrong side of the keyboard. Why? Because several years ago when I was pushing hard to make a book deadline, my fingers and arms started tingling.

My solution? Get an ergonomic keyboard (Logitech New Touch) and trackball (Logitech Marble Mouse). Unfortunately, the keyboard is no longer made, so when it dies I will be forced to buy one from eBay.

Note: the toys in front of the monitor are from my daughter. She loves to give me such gifts and I love getting them. The huge monitor is an Acer B326HUL, a 32 inch monitor with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, far bigger than the standard size of 1920 x 1080. Sad to say it's an evaluation model for a review, and I'll have to give it back soon.

The other change that drives people crazy is using a trackball that's on the left of the keyboard rather than the right. Why do I put it there? Distance.

Take a look at your keyboard. How far is it from the middle of the keyboard to the right edge? Go ahead and measure, I'll wait. Now how far from the center of the keyboard tot he left edge? Usually only a quarter of the distance.

When you move your right arm waaaay over to the mouse, then move the mouse right and left and forward and back, you put a lot of strain on your right elbow and wrist. The only thing worse would bu using the track pad built into the Logitech keyboard, which requires you to move your elbow to the right and back towards you, putting stress on your elbow and shoulder. That's stupid, so I never try to use the track pad.

With my trackball on the left, I move only a few inches to manipulate the cursor. My index finger falls naturally on the trackball, leaving my second finger on the left mouse button, the most used. You will struggle a bit with the trackball on the left, but after a day or two you'll be swooshing the cursor around the screen like a pro.

After my new keyboard and trackball became standard, I never had another tingle in either hand. Was I headed toward carpal tunnel problems? Maybe. Do I worry about that at all now? Absolutely not.

Take any tingling in your fingers, hands, wrists, or elbows as a serious warning, and make some changes immediately. Plus, other people will stay off your computer.