Gumby

Thoughts from the clay guru.

Windows 8 and Proxy servers

This post is only relevant if you are trying to use the Customer Preview version of Windows 8 within a corporate firewall.  If this is not you…go do something else…like google “cat breading” (and that is breading…like Wonder Bread…and, I can’t figure it out either…what a waste of bandwidth).

Okay, on to the regularly scheduled blog….

After reading some posts, looking up some MS articles, and miscellaneous other reference materials, I finally got Windows 8 – Customer Preview to download and install apps from within our corporate firewall…and here are my 12 easy steps:

  1. Go to the windows Desktop (if you don’t know what this is…wait until the final release of Windows 8) and fire up Windows Explorer (the folder thingy)
  2. Under the View menu, make sure you have “File Name Extensions” checked
  3. Right click in a folder (Documents is fine) and select “New | Text Document”
  4. Name this new file MikeIsCool.cmd (or some other name that states I am not really a geek)
  5. Click on “Yes” when prompted if you want to change the file name extension.  If you don’t get this prompt…go back to Step 2…you forgot to turn on the file extensions.
  6. Right-click on the MikeIsCool.cmd file then select the Edit menu item.
  7. Type in the following 2 lines:
    netsh winhttp set proxy http://<your proxy server here>:<your port here>
    pause
  8. Close the Window and click on “Save” button to save the file
  9. Right-click on the MikeIsCool.cmd file (yes, again), and select “Run as administrator”
  10. (optional) Enter your administrator password.  A command prompt will pop up and you should see a line labeled Proxy Server(s) with your proxy server to the right of that.  Make sure it all looks good…if not, you typed something wrong in step 7…or I got something wrong…but I am guessing it is you.  If it is me, please post a comment and tell me how much smarter you are than me…and please tell me and others how to fix my blunder.  And make sure you don’t really type in “<your proxy server here>” or “<your port here>”
  11. (optional) Press the spacebar to close down the command window.
  12. Reboot your Windows 8 machine.

That worked for me.  After the reboot, I was able to install apps in Windows 8.

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“SIM Switcheroo”

Here is another Blog on how smart my kids are…and how we need to stay on top of things more than my parents do.

One of the rules around our house is that before the kids go to bed, their phone needs to be plugged in and dropped in a basket on the kitchen cupboard.  This rule is to prevent texting, phone calls, game playing, etc. when they should be sleeping.  When checking the phone bill for the paticular month, I noticed that just a few days earlier…my daughter had been texting around midnight.   Hmmm….that’s funny….I am sure she had her phone in the kitchen that night.  Well, she is in bed now, so let me see if her phone is downstairs……[me dragging my butt downstairs to check]…

Phone there…check.  Let me check something else….that’s funny…no bars.  Wait….let me pull the back off…WHAT!?!?!…..no SIM card in.  [sound of me stomping up the stairs].  [Light on in bedroom]….daughter half asleep, or so she is pretending to sleep.  “Denise, where is your SIM card?”  She reluctantly hands over the “phone she hated just a year ago”, and inside is her SIM card.  DAMN, she is smart….pulled her SIM card out of her phone before she deposited in the basket for the night.  Score one for the kids…but the game is far from over…..now I check for a signal pretty much every night.  There is 10 seconds every day I will never get back.

Thanks to Dan W. for the title for this blog….after he bugged me that he did not know the story.

Authentication vs. Encryption vs. APIs/Communciation Protocols

Context is Learning Systems….

This is a quick primer on the differnces between Authentication, Encryption and APIs/Communciation Protocols.  I will try and explain each in simple terms, and the importance of all three.

Authentication

At its basic sense, authentication is simply a way for a web server to verify a user is who they say they are…and to keep “riff raff” out.  Most people know this as simple username/password prompts.  An LMS or content server with an authentication scheme employed will require an individual to identify (login) before they are allowed into the system.  Now some Authentication schemes, like Single-Sign-On (SSO), will be integrated with either your local Operating System or browser to store credentials that you have entered earlier, and share that with other SSO enabled sights.   From an end-user perspective, it appears they may not be authenticating on a particular site…but be assured…they are…it is just automatic.

If a site does not provide authentication…then by definition, the site is open to the general public.  You may have heard of the term, Security by Obscurity.  This simply means…if a person does not know it is there..then it is secure.  And this is false.  Would you bury your life savings in a forest preserve if I could guarantee that no one knows the location?  I would hope not.  You always run the risk that someone may accidentally run across your hiding spot…or an enterprising individual may try and discover this location by following you during one of your withdraw runs…or discovering through social engineering (maybe talking to a family member that discloses some information that might lead an invidual there).  You want your money in a secure location like a bank, that checks your identification and requires some additional information like an account number before you are allowed to withdraw the money.

Encryption

Encryption is simply protecting the information that travels from the server to the end-user’s browser, encrypting, or scrambling, the data so only the server and browser can understand it.  You should realize that computer networks are just a medium to transmit data, just like yelling across a room.  Next time you are at a Starbucks, imagine your Bank is next door.  Would you yell out loud to the bank teller, asking for a withdraw and then yelling your account number and maybe social security number for all to hear?  Of course not.  Well, sending this information across the internet, although not as blatent as yelling, still provides the same information…just slightly more difficult to listen into.  But going over a wireless network IS broadcasting that information in about a 300 ft. radius, and people could have listening devices picking up on this information.  Also, anyone with access to network connections anywhere between you and the destination server could tap into this information as well.  Pretty scary thought, isn’t it.

The standard encryption scheme used by Internet sites is Secure Sockets Layer or SSL.  You can tell if you are using a SSL site in general if the URL starts with HTTPS (that “S” means secure) instead of the more standard HTTP sites (no-secure).  With SSL sites, when the SSL server and your browser initially connect, they agree on a complex protocol to scramble all the data as it leaves your browser and travels to the server, only to be unscrambled at the other end…and this happens both ways.  So even if you are “yelling” your bank account information, it is in a language that only your browser and the bank’s servers can understand.  So any site that is SSL enabled, will safely communicate all information in a protected and safe way.

APIs/Communication Protocols

Within the context of learning environments or LMSs, there are two primary APIs or Communcation protocols used; AICC and SCORM.  SCORM is really just an extension, and really just version 3.0 and later of AICC.  The purpose of these standards is twofold.  First is to provide a standard mechanism to package up courses and configuration files in a way that LMSs can consume, load and configure the course on the LMS.  The second purpose is to provide an agreed upon communciation approach so the course can talk to the LMS to get basic student information, get previous progress data, and send completion information.  Nothing more.  There is nothing in the AICC or SCORM standards that deals specifically with protecting course data from prying eyes – no Encryption or Authentication is defined in these standards.

Encryption does not Equal Authentication

I can enable SSL on a site that is open to the general public, with no login.  In fact, go to HTTPS://www.google.com.  You will notice (although not physically see) that all your Google searches are encrypted and no one will be able to see that I executed a search on say ‘pink flamingos’, but ANYONE can get in and execute a secure search on Google.  Not much benefit in SSL securing a site that anyone can get to the information anyways.

There were a number of sites that used to require authentication, but did not provide encryption.  eBay I believe early on was this way.  You were required to enter your login information to bid on items, but if someone could view your traffic, the could have easily gotten your login information and/or seen what you were buying.  So you will notice now that on ebay, as soon as you go to the login screen, you are redirected to their secure SSL enabled site.

There is security in enabling both authentication AND encryption, and most (hopefully all) financial institutions will require both.  So if you care about protecting the information on your server, whether it be financial information or Intellectual Property for your company, you will want to secure your data with both encryption and authentication at a minimum.

Checking out an eBook on your tablet or Kindle

So, did you know that most libraries provide a number (although small…but hopefully growing) of electronic books available for checkout?

I have used this approach a few times and it is pretty easy.  This blog is a visual step-by-step process for getting the book Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson onto my iPad (and Windows Phone 7 if I want to later).  Click on any picture below for the full-size image.

Step 1:  Go to the Overdrive site (http://www.overdrive.com)

Step 2:  Enter your Zip code to the Library in your area.

Step 3:  Click on the library link provided in Step 2 to be taken to the collection of books available for download from your library system.

Step 4:  Search or browse for your book.  Once you locate an available book, clicking on that book will provide you some options to download.  I will select the Kindle format for this discussion.

Step 5:  After selecting the Kindle format, we will select the option to Proceed to Checkout

Steps 6, 7, and 8:  Select your Library, change Lending Period if you want, and then click on the Get for Kindle button

Step 9, 10, 11, 12, 13:  Head on over to Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) and accept your Public Library Loan and then Deliver it to the Kindle compatible device of your choice

Step 14, 15:  Go to your Kindle device (my iPad for this example), and select and read your book.

When the book has expired, you will see that the loan has ended (as in Snow Crash in the image above), and when you launch the book, you will be presented the option to buy it

Hope you found this guide helpful.  Please provide comments to this blog if you have anything to say… positive or negative.

WP7 Shortcuts

I would like MS to add a small feature to their Windows Phone 7 platform…to make my life easier….cause I am sure that is what Microsoft cares about.  This feature is a simple way to pin the Podcast (or for that matter the Radio, Videos or Music) section to the Start (or Home Page as I call it).

In addition to having to turn the volume all the way up everytime I hook my phone into my Aux jack in my car…I have to do the following:

  • Click on the Home button
  • Scroll down a bit to the Music – Videos shortcut (okay, I know…I can fix this myself)
  • Click on the Music – Videos shortcut
  • Click on the Podcasts menu item
  • Then select my podcast (or maybe scroll left/right first if it is a video)

Why not allow me to create the shortcut to Podcasts on my Start/Home page?

Outsmarting my smart kids – Wireless Access

I have told this story a few times to friends and coworkers on how my kids are pretty smart…but I am smarter (or so I think).  I figured I would recant this story here with the hope that you find it entertaining and educational.

So late one night, I believe it was about 2:30 am, as I was walking from the den (most likely wrapping up a session of World of Warcraft) to the bedroom, I noticed a light briefly flash from my 14 year old daughter’s bedroom.  After entering her room and noticing that she still had headphones on her head, I “woke her up”…or so she played that I was waking her up, and took her Zune player from her.  Her Zune was still on, and she was using the Web Browser to go on Facebook.  She was on Facebook at 2:30 am on her Zune!  Fairly creative…but still not something she should be doing.

So, what is a technology smart parent to do?  I am not sure, but this is what I did.  The next day, I dusted off my old Linksys WRT54GS rounter, reflashed it with the Tomato Firmware ( http://www.polarcloud.com/tomato ).  I then proceeded to brush up on the Access Restriction settings, and reconfigured this wireless router to turn off the wireless access from 10pm until 7am.  I then reset the password on my current router to a WPA passcode only I knew, and gave the kids the password to the “new” wireless access point.  Now, no matter what wireless devices they use at home; laptop, iPod Touch, PSP,  Zune, etc….there is no Internet “hanky panky” in the middle of the night anymore….well, unless they get up and plug in…but I will cross that bridge when I get there.

Score 1 for the parents.  Parents 1 : Kids 0

Please feel free to share you “smart kids” story below.  I will share the SIM Switcharoo story next week.

Volume silent/quiet times

We have smart or programmable thermostats in our houses that “know” (and I use that term loosely) our schedules and can turn the temperature up or down based on our daily schedules…so why can our smartphones do the same?  There is the word “smart” in the name itself!

The idea I am getting to here is the ability to set a “quiet” or “silent” time for our smartphones.  In my example, I would like a way to turn my phone volume down to 5 (WP7 goes from 0-30….so you get the picture…it is fairly quiet) when I am sleeping from between midnight and maybe 5 or 6 am.  I don’t want it completely off, but when alerts come in frequently, I don’t always want to be woken up if I left my volume at say 30.

I know my company’s voice mail and phone forwarding services allow me to set times in which the forwarding is effective.  Outlook lets me set my office hours so that people know when I am typically in the office.  So it only seems logical that I would have some control over at least the volume on my smartphone when I am sleeping.  Maybe this could be extended to other services on the phone.

If you have an idea on a service or function of your current smartphone that you think should be controlled if your smartphone knew when you were sleeping…please leave a comment.

Power button on side vs. top?

I really do like my Samsung Focus.  In fact, I went to the AT&T store last week to check out the new Samsung Focus S (bigger screen and faster processor), but decided that there was not compelling reason to upgrade.  The Focus S did not “seem” faster, nor did the bigger screen really “do anything for me”.  The one thing I was kind of hoping for, and this may seem trivial, was for a change in the placement of the power button.  I really dislike (thought about using the word “hate”) the placement of the power button on the side.  And not just that, but completely opposite of the volume rocker switch seems particularly short-sited.  Now you may know from reading an earlier post, that I use the volume switch probably more than the “average” person (and I am sure there are some “above average” folks out there too), and I often accidentally hit the power switch when operating to volume controls or even pulling it out of my belt case.  Maybe it is because I a right-handed.  Maybe I am supposed to use 2 hands when operating the volume switch.  Or maybe I am just weird.

My previous phone, the iPhone, had the power button located on the top (top when held in portrait mode – which is how I hold my phone most of the time) of the device.  Although, at the time, I never really thought about them, I think that is the right placement….at least for me.  This has gotten me to really think about going out to AT&T next week and checking out the HTC Titan when it comes it…they put the power button on top.

And it may seem like Nokia is not sure what the right answer is.  The new Lumia 710 has the power button on top, and the Lumia 800 has put it on the side.  But Nokia may be onto something, they did not put the power button across from the volume switches (they realize that people need a spot on the other side of the device to support when pressing buttons), and they have placed the power button below the volume switch.  I may like that answer.  I do now vaguely remember using my left hand to hit the power switch when holding the phone in my right hand because the power switch was not easily reached or used with a single hand.

Please use the comments to vent or add your 2 cents about power button placement.  What do you like or dislike about your current phone’s power button?

For today’s poll, I am asking where you prefer to have the power button on your smartphone.

iOS 5 on iPad (v1) underperforms

Okay, I just need to vent/rant.  Anyone else with an iPad version 1, that has installed iOS 5 think that these two were not meant for each other?

I am experiencing the following issues with iOS 5 on my iPad v1:

  • Crashes often with 3rd party apps AND build in apps like the Safari browser?  I don’t think I am a heavy iPad user, but experience at least 3 application crashes per day.  A lot of times, it will simply be watching a YouTube video on a Safari page.  The app just closes down.
  • Performance has taken a major hit with the new iOS.  This is especially obvious in the AppStore application where clicking on the search field will often take 3-5 seconds to get the I-beam to appear so I can type.  And yes, I have fully shut down and restarted the iPad…and it is still slow…with no other apps running.  Also, switching between Updates, Categories, etc. is sluggish….and I am WiFi with 30+Mbps connection.
  • The new fancy notification pull-down seems buggy.  At times, some of the items will flash (appear then disappear then appear….).

Anyone else experiencing issues?  Maybe it is just operator error (but I doubt it).

Just a simple rotation lock….

I admit it, I am a little addicted to keeping up to technology, gaming and other news via RSS feeds.  I get hundreds of new “articles” per day I try and keep up on, so I am constantly looking at them when I have even 5 free minutes.  The one place I do reading on a daily basis is in bed, for 5, 10…okay 30 minutes, before I turn off the lights.  I would love to use my Windows Phone 7 to do this…but I constantly reach for the iPad for one reason…and one reason only…the rotation lock.

Yes, I do read while on my back…sometimes, but I also like to turn on my side and continue reading.  I need to keep the screen orientation so that the top stays at the top of the device…because for some reason, reading sideways is not all that enjoyable.  So my feature request for this week is a screen rotation lock option on the Windows Phone 7.  I don’t need a rotation lock switch, although that would be really nice, I just want a way to lock the screen in portrait mode.

Not sure the best way to implement a screen rotation lock is, but just an option in the Settings seems “to far away” from my daily tasks.  Two suggestions would be:

  1. Maybe on the task switcher page.  I hold the Back Button to pull up my running tasks…then press a button on the screen with all the running tasks to lock the screen rotation in the current orientation.
  2. Maybe implement a “hold” option on another button like the back arrow bringing up the Task Switcher.  For example, I hold the “Windows Logo” button for 2 seconds to lock the screen.

Is this something anyone else is looking for…or am I just weird?  (Don’t answer that second part 🙂 )

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