Category Archives: Article

Spam Spam Spam

Thanksgiving is gone, Black Friday is over and even Cyber Monday is back there over the horizon. No denying it, the Holiday Season is here. But just as tax season brings a wave of specialized spam and scams, so do “the most wonderful time of the year.” In addition to the usual onslaught from botnets and the like, 2016 has even seen the emergence of so-called artisanal spammers, who target smaller groups of people in hopes of avoiding junk filters.

As always, beware the legit-looking spoofs, like fake order confirmation messages from Amazon or other online retailers asking you to log in from supplied email links. It’s a big problem and Amazon even has a guide to identifying bogus messages, dealing with them and reporting them. If you have any doubt, skip the message and log into your account directly on the retailer’s website. If you get mail about you didn’t order, check your order-history page to make sure nothing got charged to your card – or that you didn’t forget you ordered something in the first place.

Watch out for the messages with the fake invoice, fax, or other attachments sent to your inbox. If the subject matter seems unfamiliar (but the sender is not), call or text to confirm the situation. Otherwise, you’ve just opened that attachment and loaded malware or ransomware into your computer. Fake breaking news alerts are another delivery mechanism.

Be on guard for new types of spam. Junk mail sent in the form of iOS calendar invitations or iCloud Photo Library photo-sharing invites has increased lately. These messages can be tricky because you usually only have the option to Accept, Decline or reply Maybe to the invite — all of which sends a notification to the spammer that you have a good, working email address.

Apple is aware of the problem and is starting to block invites from identified spam merchants. In the meantime,  workarounds include turning off the iCloud Photo Sharing invite feature, moving spam invitations to a special iCloud Junk calendar and then deleting it in the iOS calendar app – or adjusting your iCloud settings to have calendar invitations sent instead to your mailbox for easy filtering and deletion.

Scammers never run out of ideas. A new category of fraud called whaling is also on the rise, in which thieves masquerade as senior-level executives asking junior associates to transfer corporate money on their behalf. The FBI noted an upward trend in this type of business scam earlier this year.

So, as we head to the end of the year, keep your junk-mail filters tuned, your computer’s anti-malware software up to date and trust no one.

Parks and Recreation

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service, which was founded back on August 25, 1916. Perhaps you saw the Ken Burns series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea last spring or maybe you’re itching for a summer road trip with a side order of history, but if you’re interested in finding out more, there are plenty of sites and apps available to assist you on your journey into the park system.

If you don’t know what national parks are in your area, you can look them up on the NPS site or on Find Your Park. If you think national parks are just big expanses of preserved land, like Joshua Tree in California or the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, hit up the site to see all the outdoor spaces and the more urban man-made monuments supervised by the National Park Service. If a major piece of American history happened there, odds are there’s a monument or museum waiting to tell the story.

In New York City, for example, there’s the old Ellis Island immigration center and museum next to the Statue of Liberty, the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Federal Hall across from the New York Stock Exchange, the brand new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace on East 20th Street, Grant’s Tomb on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Hamilton Grange in Harlem, Governor’s Island out in New York harbor, the Gateway National Recreation area in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.

nps

Along with parks and public spaces like the National Mall in Washington, DC, places where wars were fought have been designated as national sites too. Battle sites like Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Fort McHenry in Maryland are just two of them.

In terms of apps and social media to help you plan a visit, the National Park Service is all over it. The NPS has its own Instagram and Twitter feeds, Facebook page and Flicker gallery. Many parks and national monuments have their own microsites, like the handsome Flickr pages for Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

manhattan

Around here in NYC, there are officially three different mobile apps dedicated to New York’s national areas., including the Manhattan & Governors Island guide shown above. The National Mall has free apps for Android and iOS, as shown farther up the page.

If you want to go with a third-party program, National Geographic has an iOS app called National Parks – the app is free, but downloads for individual parks are about $2 each. Chimani has free National Parks guides for Android, Amazon Fire and iOS that do not require a Wi-Fi or cellular signal to use — which is great if you’re visiting some of the more remote, outdoorsy locations in the system and all you have are bears and air. The outdoor gear company REI has a free National Parks app, too,  and podcasts for Android and iOS.

ng

You can also find guides and information on the National Parks Foundation website, which is the official charity of the park service. Many of the country’s national parks need more than government funding to stay open and must charge entrance fees, but to celebrate the centennial, the National Park Service is waiving fees for 16 days this year, including the agency’s birthday weekend of August 25th-28th this summer.

And remember, Jellystone is not a national park. Yogi Bear’s old turf is a franchise of RV campgrounds and resorts.

Happy Hundred, National Park Service!

Arts and Sciences

IMG_7489Art is influenced by everything around it —  including technology — and major exhibits of artists reacting or interacting with tech are becoming common. On 2011, The Museum of Modern Art had a successful show called Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects (MoMA currently has 14 classic videogames in its permanent Applied Design collection, including Pac-Man, Tetris, Myst and Sim City 2000.) In 2014, London’s Barbican Center hosted a how called Digital Revolution that highlighted the rise of tech-assisted creativity. Those shows are in the past, but if you happen to be in London between now and March 20th, 2016, you can catch a wonderful new exhibit called Big Bang Data at Somerset House; a video promo gives you an idea of what to expect, as does the show’s official press release.

IMG_7483The core of Big Bang Data consists of artists and designers using data — and data visualization — to illustrate just how much public and private information drives the world these days. There’s historical content, like sections of underwater data cables and a display of data-storage devices including ancient floppies, USB drives and the ever-looming cloud. A film on government surveillance outlines the NSA’s known practices. Another documentary on a loop explores the history of the Internet Archive project. A wall projection (shown above) rates the happiness factor in London’s boroughs based on real-time social media posts. Another mapping project shows the physical Networks of London, and another examines how data can be used for good to “catapult healthcare into the future.”

IMG_7479Julian Oliver’s 2012 work, Transparency Grenade, is also on view. As described by the gallery card, “Equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna, the Transparency Grenade captures network traffic and audio at the site and securely and anonymously streams it to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. User names, hostnames, IP addresses, unencrypted email fragments, web pages, images and voice extracted from this data and then presented on an online, public map, shown at the location of the detonation.” The gallery provides an open Wi-Fi access point named watchednetwork so visitors can see just what the Grenade can grab.

Even if you can’t make it across the pond to see it, the exhibit’s website is well worth checking out. Life is art, as they say, and that goes for our digital lives as well.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

adabookOctober 14 is Ada Lovelace Day, and a time to celebrate both the amazing Ada Lovelace herself and the achievements of all the women out there working in science, technology, engineering and math. If you missed it last year, The Atlantic had a great roundup of essays and other commentary on technology and gender here. To really read more about how it all got started, check out the new book Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger, out now from Melville House Books. So here’s to Ada Lovelace, and all the women that followed her into tech!

Room to Roam

Traveling overseas often used to mean being cut off from your mobile phone number because your handset wouldn’t work in another country — or because you didn’t want to pay exorbitant roaming charges just to check mail or take a call from a friend while you were on a foreign wireless carrier’s network. Remember all those early iPhone horror stories when users would come home from gadding about Europe only to find their phones had been automatically checking mail on international networks and racking up the charges? A $3,000 phone bill is not the “Welcome Home” notice most people prefer.

Thankfully, things have gotten better in the travel department. If you have a trip abroad planned and want to stay in touch with friends here and there via mobile device, you have more connectivity options besides clinging to hotel WiFi, swapping in SIM cards or investing in a cheap pay-as-you-go burner phone.

All four of the major US carriers have international plans for phones and tablets to add onto your current service. (International roaming, not to be confused with international long distance, means your device works when you are using it in another country, not using it to call another country from home.)

Prices and services vary by carrier, but check out the offerings from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. On AT&T, for example, you can add 30 minutes of voice on one of the company’s overseas partner network for $30. Note, however, that you will typically get charged for incoming calls and those that go to voicemail, so your minutes may disappear more quickly than you anticipated.

As another example, T-Mobile’s aggressively priced $50 Simple Choice plan gives you unlimited talk, text and data on its own network and unlimited international text and data in 120 countries, with voice calls 20 cents a minute. T-Mobile, as they say, is bringing it.

Data plans are also available if you want to text or keep in touch through email. For example, if you have a cellular-equipped iPad and AT&T, you can get 120 megabytes of data on AT&T’s International Plan for $30 — which may be enough for a week’s worth of email service and Facebook check-ins between WiFi stops while you and your tablet are touristing.

Whichever carrier you use, check its website for information on global services; Apple’s site also has a list of suggestions for iPhone and iPad travelers. Some carriers make it easier than others to sign up, but most sites have data calculators and other tools (like Verizon’s Interactive Trip Planner) online to help you make decisions on what you need. Just remember, if you add services to your current voice or data plan on any device, check to see if you need to turn off those services after you get back —  or if the travel plan self-terminates.

With AT&T, you can sign up for the international plan right on the iPad, although you need to do it before you go. If you are an AT&T customer, check out the company’s international travel guide and page of data roaming tips. Verizon Wireless has its own checklist (and info for iPad owners) and both T-Mobile’s page o’ roaming questions and Sprint’s FAQ on the topic might be helpful if you use one of these carriers. Depending on your contract, some plans also give you access to your carrier’s WiFi hotspot network too.

pencaseKeep in mind that some mobile phones may not work overseas, particularly those that only use the CDMA technology. While Verizon and Sprint have traditionally used CDMA networks, you maybe be able to get a loaner handset from either Verizon or Sprint for your trip. Modern smartphones that use the GSM standard, like those offered by AT&T and T-Mobile, usually get along quite well in Europe.

Fiddling with your phone bill is not for everyone and the previous options like getting a cheap road mobile still stand. (And some people rather like going off the grid for a week because: vacation.) Still, for a little more cash, getting a temporary international plan does help you keep in touch with the world when you and the phone are roaming the globe.

Pop Tech Jammers, We Need Your Help!

Please subscribe, rate and review Pop Tech Jam at iTunes, Stitcher Radio or any of the many podcast directories featuring the show. To those of you who already have, we extend our deepest and sincerest thanks. This is a labor of love for me and J.D. and getting that feedback from you helps us attract attention from new listeners and potential advertisers which in turn helps us keep doing what we do.

We can’t stop being amazed by the support you’ve shown us since the announcement was made that our old New York Times radio show would be back with a new name and a new attitude.  We promise to keep producing the show for as long as we can but the reality is that to compete with the media powerhouses and podcast factories churning out cookie-cutter marketing spiels masquerading as Internet radio we need all of you to keep spreading the word.

You know we’re more than just a tech podcast. It’s time to let the rest of the world in on the secret. The Pop Tech Jam revolution will not be televised…it will be podcasted.

Whaddaya know, It’s Our 1st Birthday!

Pretty soon we’ll be flinging food from our high chair and having ear-shattering tantrums at supermarkets…

A year ago this week J.D. and I officially “went rouge” and unleashed the pilot episode of our new project, Pop Tech Jam. In December of 2011 our radio show for The New York Times had been cancelled and yours truly moved on to produce video for the Gray Lady. J.D. shifted her focus to her book series for O’Reilly Media and continued writing and editing for the Book Review and Technology sections of the Times. It appeared our Internet radio days were over. But a strange thing happened.

Once word spread that our show had ended production, the emails poured in exhorting us to bring it back or produce a new one. To say we were moved by the outpouring of support from our listeners would be a gross understatement. J.D. and I were actually both a little gobsmacked.

Neither of us had any clue that there were so many passionate fans missing our shenanigans but grinding out a weekly radio show for so long had taken its toll and we both needed time off to recharge before discussing what to do next. It became clear during our first few meetings that without the considerable resources available to us at our day gig it would have been impossible for us to do both a new show and our full-time jobs. Just as we were about to move on, the team at BROS offered to help and the rest, as they say, is history.

The plan is to continue producing the show until it loses the fun factor for either of us. As things stand right now, it appears J.D. and I will be busy for quite some time.

Thank you all and please remember to JAM responsibly.