Friday, May 29, 2009

Stalking tips and tricks

One of the things I bring out from time to time is how easy it is for companies to find information about you given your email address.

For example, if you have an uncommon email address, people can Google that. (That's easy).

Another, more advanced way is to use Facebook or Myspace. You can put in an email address, and it's easy to find people.

Okay, so many people are smart enough to hide themselves. However, there is always a more advanced way to find people. One of those ways is I find that people use the same username everywhere. So, for example, if your email address is, you are likely to use abc123 as your username everywhere.

You can take that username and put it in to and it searches all over the Web for that username. Let's say you have a blog on an account on flickr...this site will find all sorts of accounts associated with that username.

Be it a potential employer...or a private investigator...a lot of this information can be found for free, if you know where to look.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Google Voice

Coming soon...Google Voice.

Basically, Google purchased a company called GrandCentral a while back. GrandCentral provided a service that allowed people to have one phone number associated with a bunch of phone lines. There are many neat applications to this technology.

So, for example, let's say I have both a cell phone and a home phone. Using this service, I could set it up so if someone called my cell phone, both my home and cell phone would ring.

Looking at this another way, if I had a small company and wanted to have a few people doing technical support, I could set it up so that between midnight and 6 am, all calls get routed to one person, from 6 am to noon all the calls get routed to another, etc.

Or, let's say I have a small company, and I want to provide customers one phone number. I could create one number for the company, and then set it up so that it rings all of my customer service representatives, and whoever picks it up, gets it.

This is basically the way telemarketing companies work, except now you can use that for your own purposes, be they personal or professional.

Google saw how cool this is and purchased the company, and they've been working on this for the last few years. They announced in March that coming "soon", this service will be available to the public for FREE.

There are other features as well, including blocking numbers and personalizing what happens when certain people call.

There's a lot of potential here. I personally have three phone numbers (land line, cell phone, work phone), and I get no cell phone reception in my apartment. When people call my cell phone at the moment, I have to call them back from my land line while in my apartment. It would be so nice just to pick up the house phone rather than the cell phone.

Google Voice information
New York Times article

Friday, May 22, 2009


Graduation, each year, is a very important time for me.

Unfortunately, for the first time, my batteries died in my camera so I couldn't take pictures!

However, I want to congratulate all of the Passaic County Community College graduates for 2009. To all of you I saw (Luis, Juan, Fady, Cindy, Tina, Roy, Christian, David, Andrew, Gayatri, Samantha, and everyone else I am surely forgetting) and those of you who couldn't attend, congratulations. PCCC's President, Dr. Rose, quotes a statistic that less than 33% of Americans have a college degree, so to all the graduates, congratulations on joining the top 33% in terms of education in the country.

I think the thing that really drew me to PCCC was that I personally grew up in a family where neither of my parents had gone to college. I was the first Cameron to even go to college, let alone complete a Bachelor's and then a Master's degree. I filled out college applications and financial aid paperwork myself, since my parents didn't really understand all the paperwork. I didn't "come from money", as they say, and without scholarships and loans I would not have even made it to college, let alone made it to the point where I am teaching at one.

While some of you may move on, I am sure some of you are already planning on using the alumni program to get reduced-price classes. If you are transferring, remember that some schools (FDU and NJIT, for example) will let you transfer up to 96 credits towards a degree, so if there is a way you can cut costs using this program, I encourage that!

Congratulations to all the graduates of the PCCC class of 2009!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Microsoft Morro

Coming later this year, Microsoft plans to release their own security suite, currently called "Morro". They claim that they won't compete with McAfee and Symantec, but we'll see what happens. When Microsoft says "second half of 2009" - I assume "December" and not "July".

In my CIS 152 course I've had students do a paper discussing who is responsible for protecting consumers on the Internet - is it the operating system manufacturer, the PC manufacturer, the Internet service provider, or the consumer?

I didn't really trust Microsoft to do the right thing here - I was wondering if it was going to be available for Vista only to drive people away from Windows XP - but they're doing the right thing and making it available for XP and Vista (as well as "7"). I also have my suspicions that this is vaporware, but that's just me not trusting Microsoft.

If this happens and it is done right, it could be one of the most important things to happen in computer security in a long time - instead of requiring people to do work, you integrate it in to the operating system and make it passive. Will it be something hackers try to exploit? Of course, because it will be the security suite for "noobs". However, it would be better to have a locked door rather than an unlocked one, even if the lock is easy to pick.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The End

So, it's the end of another semester. I hope, for any of you who are graduating, that you come to graduation. Faculty actually do come to this event, and I personally am always excited to congratulate anyone I know when they graduate. Whether you are not planning on continuing on, or whether this is just the first stop on your way to a Ph.D., you should take the time to celebrate your accomplishments.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Can you be arrested for exploiting yourself?

How can someone exploit themselves?

This is a question I asked myself when I read about the article linked below. In late March, a 14 year old girl decided to post some 30 "explicit" pictures of herself on her Myspace page. This is already a bad idea, but there is a twist. Since she is distributing what is legally child pornography, the girl is now subject to child pornography charges, and may have to register herself as a sex offender.

This is just another one of those cases of the laws being behind the technology. These laws were put in place before technology could change these things - typically, it was a lot harder to distribute these things, because you would need to actually produce the pictures, and how many kids know how to do that?

Now, it's just click and upload.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How Zip Codes work

There are so many little pieces of information in this world that prove to be puzzles to me at times, and I am sure that there are many for you as well.

For example, I knew underneath it all there was some sort of pattern to Zip codes - ones starting with 07 seemed to be in the New Jersey area, and I remember seeing Zip codes starting with 10 belonging to New York City.

Apparently, I am not the only crazy person who wonders about these things. Someone actually combined that curiosity with a Java applet that allows you to put in parts of a Zip code, and have it zoom in on where the Zip codes are associated with. It's fun to check out, or at least it was for me!

(This was on my mind because stamps are going up two cents on Monday of next week, 5/11/09: - get "forever stamps" now!)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Why Windows is necessary

I had some thoughts related to the recent blog entry about Linux. Someone asked me why I gave it up. I probably would have asked someone the same question at that point. I remember back in college being very anti-Microsoft.

As I get further in to my career, I've learned one thing. Linux is not going to overtake Microsoft any time soon as accepted in the general public, and there are some reasons.

A) After many semesters of teaching some of the introductory courses, I see the trouble people have with the Microsoft Windows operating system. I consider Windows to be simpler than the Linux operating system. If all machines went to Linux tomorrow, we'd be reducing access to computers and technology, which would hold back society. People will give up rather than learn it.

B) Managers are scared of open source software. If a catastrophic failure occurs, there is no one to sue. If, however, there was a flaw in the Microsoft operating system that caused problems, people can turn around and sue Microsoft. They may not win, but there is comfort in that.

C) There are a lot of applications that were designed for Windows that people use. Without the use of Windows compatibility layers, these tools don't run in that environment. Most companies won't bother emulating the operating system, because that adds complexity, and they certainly won't bother re-writing. The company my father used to work for had an OS/2 application that was written in the 1980's. They were still running this operating system in 2001 on a bunch of machines just for that one application.

D) People push how secure the Linux operating system is, as well as browsers such as Firefox. Are they inherently more secure? Yes, they are. I don't doubt this. Part of the reason, however, is that if I am a hacker I am not attacking those platforms. Why? Two reasons. First, because the people using them are more computer savvy, so you are trying to hack smarter users - and a hacker wants the easiest targets possible. Secondly, there are more people using Windows and Internet Explorer, so one nasty little targeted virus hits a larger user base. If there were suddenly a large portion of the market using any tool, be sure that people will attack it and find exploits. It's not worth it to write a Linux virus today.

The reality is that in many ways in our own lives, we tend towards "this is not what I know" as a reaction to new things. For all of you who are very pro-Linux, think of how you would react if someone wanted to replace something you are comfortable with with something new. Most people resist change, and that's just the way the world works much of the time.

These are the things you would have to overcome if you want to get a society over to Linux. It's not good enough to say "well, it's more secure" - because people won't give up what they know for that promise. In that way, being hacked is in many people's minds much like speeding - no one ever thinks they are going to be the one pulled over until it happens.

It doesn't mean I like it. This is just what I consider the reality. You can only change in small increments. You would likely never be able to walk in to a company and say "I think we should all go to Linux" because you'd probably hear "I think you should go to ...somewhere". The larger the company, the more resistance to change.