Home Networking

Originally published in The Clarion | May 26, 2010
Home networking has come a long way over the years. I recall my first home network, two PC’s connected by a hub for the sole purpose of playing Quake against a friend. Today, home networks are commonplace. A few dollars at your favorite gadget store, a few minutes plugging things in and you’re done. The popularity of wireless networks though has brought with it some concerns that many home network owners may have not considered.

As far as I know, all of the popular wireless networking routers come out-of-the-box in an open configuration. By that, I mean that when the user connects the router to their Cable / DSL modem, the wireless interface is entirely open – no security, no authentication required. Since the router functions perfectly fine in this configuration, many home users simply leave it as it is. One concern with leaving a wireless network ‘open’ is while you have all of the conveniences of wireless connectivity, so do your neighbors.

While not prevalent in America (yet), reports have come out over the years of people in Europe and Asia having criminal charges brought against them for using a neighbor’s wireless Internet connection. I like to think of this situation as being no different from my neighbor tapping off my water line or electricity so they can use my services as if they belonged to them – just without having to pay the fees. Maybe this seems a little extreme to some folks, but a ‘free ride’ if you will isn’t the only concern with open wireless networks.

It seems that many people feel that the Internet is an anonymous place – that no one can know what sites you have visited or what conversations you have had online. This is very far from the truth. Having an open wireless network opens the door for liability of the owner of the Internet connection. In simple terms, if someone uses my open network to commit a crime, the authorities are going to come to me, not the unauthorized user of my open network. This can and is a very serious deal. With Internet crime rampant today, it should be obvious how important securing your wireless connection really is. While each wireless router is different in its specific configuration, you may want to consider digging out the user’s manual and taking a couple minutes to secure the wireless interface with a decent (not too easy to guess) password. The process only takes a few moments and only has to be done once. I would hate for any of my readers to become a victim of a crime which they did not commit.


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Penmanship

Originally published in The Clarion | May 19, 2010

Modern technologies have molded and modified our ways of life for decades now, even down to the most simple aspects of life. One of the most basic day-to-day activities many of us depend on in one way or another is handwriting or penmanship. An unfortunate fact is that, at least in my case, penmanship has gone by the wayside for the most part due to all of the electronic gadgets we now use as means of communications.

In my much younger years, I recall having very good handwriting skills – so much so that teachers would frequently compliment me on my ability to put ink onto paper. As I grew older and was introduced to the Personal Computer (I will not include my Commodore 64 in this category), my writing skills began to waiver and by the time I was in High School they had all but disappeared. What a shame.

In preparing for a vacation trip to Washington, DC, images of the origins of our nation come to mind. Included in these images are the most important documents ever penned – the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and US Constitution. Take a moment and imagine these documents in all their glory and historical significance. Now imagine those same documents laid out in 12-pt Times New Roman type font. For me, it’s virtually impossible to do so. The penmanship in which these documents were drafted is what we think of in imagining these documents. The beauty of the ink on the page exemplifies the words which it creates. The style and care taken to put these words onto paper cannot be matched with today’s Word Processing applications. I feel that any historic document that was originally penned by hand simply would not hold a candle to the same exact words on a piece of paper in type.

While the skill of typing is one I am proud to possess, I’m distressed to admit that I do not recall my last attempt at handwriting. My printed notes are virtually illegible and my hand often cramps after only a few minutes of chicken scratching. I cannot imagine how bad an attempt at script writing would go. It’s been said that penmanship is becoming (or better yet, has become) a lost art. As I peck away at my keyboard composing this article, I am sadly confident such has become true.


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Amateur Radio

Originally published in The Clarion | May 12, 2010
One of my hobbies (I simply have too many) is Amateur Radio – also known as Ham Radio. My interests in various technologies led me to the hobby and just like Internet and other technologies, ham radio continues to evolve in the 21st Century. While many people see ham radio as something only for engineer geek-types or old men who like to talk about the weather, odds are good that the hobby has something that will interest most everyone.

The aspect of ham radio that appealed to me most when I acquired my license was a technology called the Internet Radio Linking Project. This technology was beginning to pick up steam in the early 2000’s and I wanted to be part of it. Simply put, IRLP links licensed ham radio operators around the world using the Internet as the communications backbone. A radio is connected to an Internet-attached computer and enables a ham to “call” another IRLP user anywhere in the world from his or her radio. I will never forget a conversation I had from my car, driving into Nashville one afternoon, with a gentleman named Graham in Australia.

Ham radio operators provide many volunteer services to their communities, the most prevalent of which is emergency communications during times of severe weather, natural or man-made disasters or any other civil distress situation where traditional communications means may not be available. One of the more recent examples of such a situation was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the widespread destruction in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas, hams were called on to be the lifeline of communications for those affected by the disaster. While cellular, emergency responder and landline communications services were out of service because of the destruction, hams were able to move into the region and provide the necessary communications services to facilitate civil and rescue operations. I know of several hams from North Alabama who packed their bags and gear and went to Mississippi and Louisiana, spending a week or more of their personal time in this endeavor.

Outside of emergency communications, ham radio is a hobby that can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime. Local repeaters allow hams in a geographic region to communicate with each other, whether from home, on the road or any other number of places using a handheld transceiver. Some hams prefer to use morse code rather than talking, even bouncing their morse code signals off the moon putting them in touch with distant hams around the globe. There is even a ham radio station on the International Space Station and yes, if you are persistent, you can even communicate with an astronaut in space from time to time. If you are interested in ham radio, I encourage you to visit the Jackson County Amateur Radio Club’s website at www.jcar.us. The club meets each month and would love to have you join us.

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Keyboard Shortcuts

Originally published in The Clarion | May 05, 2010
If you read last week’s article, I may have left you wondering why my biggest beef with the iPad was it not having a keyboard. I have my reasons, and maybe after considering some of them you will be able to learn some keyboard tricks that you may have never known about.

Since the World Wide Web became prevalent in many of our lives, quick and efficient Web browsing has been a requirement for productivity in the workplace (at least for those of us who rely on the Web in our day-to-day job). While our friendly mouse does the trick in navigating the Web and the entire Operating System for that matter, you might be surprised to learn that a few handy keyboard tricks can boost your efficiency when using a PC both at work and at home.

If you use any of the different flavors of Operating Systems from Microsoft, odds are good that you are familiar with the CTRL+ALT+DEL keyboard sequence. This combination of keystrokes is required to log in to many flavors of Windows and can also be used to lock the machine, launch the task manager etc. The key sequences that follow can increase efficiency while you’re using your PC and will, after a little practice, leave your friendly mouse jealous of your keyboard.

My favorite and most often used key combination is ALT+TAB. At any given time, whether at work or at home, I use multiple applications at the same time and often need to switch between them frequently. Without keyboard shortcuts, I would have to remove a hand from the keyboard, grab my mouse, go to the taskbar and choose the tab for my other application. With ALT+TAB, your hands never have to leave the keyboard. Simply hold the ALT key and press TAB and you will see a pop-up box that shows all applications that are open. With ALT still pressed, hit the TAB key until the application you want to switch to is highlighted and release. Amazing! You just switched applications without reaching for the mouse or (for those of you familiar with the key locations) even looking away from your screen.

A few other keystroke combinations I find quite handy are used in the Web browser. If you navigate through Websites frequently, forget about the Forward and Back buttons in your browser. Holding down the ALT key and pressing the Left Arrow will take you back a page, the Right Arrow will take you forward. Give it a try and see what you think. I also like using the Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys to swiftly move through a Web page. With some practice, I am confident you will find these tricks helpful and might make you wonder why you even need that mouse that’s taking up valuable desk space. More keyboard tricks to come in future articles.

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