When the Cloud is Offline

By Google Inc. (https://developers.google.com/drive/branding) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsGoogle Drive apparently went down for a couple of hours this morning.  (I missed it. I was in a meeting.)  This is a good reminder that you need to maintain the ability to work with your documents when the Internet or the cloud service itself is unavailable.  Google has a page about setting up offline access for Google Drive documents.  Do it now while you’re thinking about it.

On the Mac, the Google Drive app created a folder in my home folder containing all of my Drive files with extenions like “.gdoc”, “.gslides” and “.gsheet”.   I presume that offline Google Drive works the same way on Windows.  On Linux, I enabled offline access from the web, then installed a Chrome app.

How Do You Enable Better Security? Two Factor Authentication


What is two factor identification?

Typically, we login someplace with an ID and a password. That combination is good everywhere, everyplace, everytime and is often saved on the device. It’s convenient but if someone knows your ID and password, they can login anywhere and get to all your stuff controlled by that account. If it’s something like a Google account, that might include your email, files, calendar, and sites that let you login using your Google credentials.

With two factor identification, logging in on a new  or untrusted device requires that ID and password, plus a code delivered to an independent device.  Even if someone knows your ID and password, they won’t have access to your device.

2-step verification drastically reduces the chances of having the personal information in your Google account stolen by someone else. Why? Because hackers would have to not only get your password and your username, they’d have to get a hold of your phone.

Here’s what I had to do to enable two step authentication on my Google apps account

  • logged in at https://accounts.google.com/ and went to the account security page at https://www.google.com/settings/security
  • installed the “Google Authenticator App” on my iPhone to receive verification codes
  • set the computer I’m setting this up on as trusted (the default setting). It’s my home desktop and it’s reasonably secure.
  • turned on 2 step verification
  • added backup phones (home phone, wife’s mobile)
  • clicked the button to go forward with creating application specific passwords and to review aplications with access to my Google account — WOW, there are sure a lot of them.
  • at this point, all sorts of unable to login boxes are popping up on things
  • generated and entered app specific passwords for
    • iphone mail
    • ipad mail
    • desktop mail
    • mac mail (had to also enter the password for the calendar app)
    • chrome synch
  • Enabled browser logins to Google services on each device and checked the “good for 30 days” box.

On my account management page, https://accounts.google.com/b/0/SmsAuthConfig, I can disable all of those verification codes. It would be nice if I could see what codes had been used an deactivate individual devices, but in an emergency situation, I suppose its best to disable any device not marked as trusted.

The total setup time, including taking notes and typing really difficult strings was about 20 minutes. I like to think that my 9th grade touch typing teacher, who didn’t see much promise in me or my attitude, would be very proud of me as I typed those 16 character passwords.

The Google Authenticator is interesting – it works like those RSA keys that present a new code every 30 seconds or so.

Current Version of the Application on iPhone
Current Version of the Application on iPhone

Google Music Manager, Google Music, and a Fedora work-around

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Google Music  is another "music in the cloud" service.  Like the Amazon music service or Apple's upcoming iCloud service, Google Music lets you buy music or copy your existing music (up to 20,000 titles) into the Google cloud and play it from any Internet-connected device.  At this time, there' s no player for iOS, but it works well within Safari on iOS. There is an app for Android.

The first step in using Google Music is installing the Google Music Manager, which manages the upload process.  The installation went smoothly on my Mac, but was problemmatic on my desktop Fedora machine.  This is also the machine that holds the bulk of my music collection.

Google Music Manager stubbornly refused to use the network connection on the Fedora box.  Several searches indicated the problem might be that Fedora 15 no longer uses "eth0" as the default network adapater.  I tried the work-arounds for that without success.  Then, I found a post on an Ubuntu forum that pointed me in the right direction.

Here's the process:

1) Obtain the MAC address for your network card using ifconfig in terminal.  

em1       Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:11:11:C5:10:CB  
          UP BROADCAST MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
          RX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000 
          RX bytes:0 (0.0 b)  TX bytes:0 (0.0 b)

wlan0     Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:11:95:BC:E5:F3  
          inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask:
          inet6 addr: fe80::211:95ff:febc:e5f3/64 Scope:Link
          RX packets:2534922 errors:0 dropped:795 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:2624661 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000 
          RX bytes:1233597209 (1.1 GiB)  TX bytes:2194066402 (2.0 GiB)

I'm using the wireless connection, so the relevant MAC address is 00:11:95:BC:E5:F3 on wlan0. 

2) In terminal:

cd .config/google-musicmanager
sqlite3 Peer.db

In sqlite:

update CONFIG set Value='00:11:95:BC:E5:F3' where Name='MachineIdentifier';

Google Music is currently a beta product and requires an invitation for access. As of right now, I have seven three invitations. If you'd like on, please leave a comment here. Be sure to fill in your email address so I can send you an invite.

Getting started with Google Voice

For a long time, a cell phone was the way to make long distance calls for "free".  Well, free as in I've bought a bunch of minutes that are not tied to a particular destination, and I've paid in advance, so it's cheaper than my Costco long distance plan on the land line.  Now, however, I'm running out of those minutes and am looking to my landline for some of my calling needs.  Google Voice has come to my rescue.

Here's how it works:  I created a Google Voice (GV) account with my cell phone as the primary phone, and only phone enabled for incoming calls.  The landline was added as another phone.  When I want to call someone, I use the GV website to call them.  The calling process is that GV first calls a phone I specify (i.e., the landline) then connects it to the called party.  As far as both ends are concerned, it's an incoming call.  Cell phones may eat minutes for incoming calls but landlines (at least, as far as I know about my own billing plan) don't.  

I signed up for GV to have a "business" phone number I could use that's independent of the numbers I'm otherwise assigned (cell phone, landlines, etc.) and for the useful features. Google Voice has lots of useful features — call screening, assignable voice mail messages, voice mail transcription, ring to more than one phone — but this one will save me real money. 

How does Google make money with this?  My wife says Google is selling information about who I know — mapping my networks by monitoring who I call and who I email.  Probably. Is that worth something to someone?

Six Steps to a Better Website – SEO in a Nutshell

Is your website useful to your vistors, both human and non-human? You can spend a lot of time and money optimizing your website for search engines and making it friendly for your human visitors. There are books, tutorials, and videos.  Ultimately, it comes down to just six things that are important when you build a website. 

1.  Text is king
Search engines cannot read graphics.  Use graphics to make the site pretty for human visitors, but be sure that the really important content (name, location, phone number, hours of operation) are text elements on the page.  The page design and contents must be pleasing to both humans and machines.

2. URLs are not that important
It is important to have an easy-to-type URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Your URL is part of your branding strategy.  In the grand scheme of things, however, the URL is not all that important.  Most people come to your site through an intermediary; they do not type in your URL.  It’s more important to promote your site to the intermediaries than to have the perfect URL.

3.  Reasonable Repetition
Search engines index the content of your site.  In the old days (two to three years ago), the engines allowed you to set keywords through “meta” statements. They found that self-declared keywords were unreliable, so they now read a site and figure out keywords and key phrases on their own.  This means that you should make sure any key terms people might use to search for your site are used on the pages of your site, and more than once. 

4.  Google can’t find what you don’t say
The converse of repetition is that if you don’t say it, Google can’t guess it.  I worked with an organization that was promoting webinars. They were upset when searching on "webinar" didn't get any hits.  After digging around for a bit, I found that they used "web conference" and "web based training" on the site, never using the word "webinar". You know what the words mean; Google just looks for the words.  We updated the site to use "webinar" and all was well.

5.  Tricks may be held against you
One of the things that doomed self-declared keywords was that some sites were gaming the system. They used a number of keywords in “meta” statements that had nothing to do with the actual content of the site. Search engines are now smarter. They look for attempts to game the system and punish them by pushing them down in the results.  Don’t put a term 20 times in white text on a white background or hidden with a no-display tag.

6.  Plan for mobile users
Have you reviewed your site from a few different brands of smart phones?  There’s not a lot of screen real estate and someone viewing your site from a phone is probably concentrating on one of those five questions above.  Make sure these are clearly visible on your home page, and that they’re text, not a graphic.  Smart phones understand addresses and will automatically link an address to a map and make phone numbers clickable.

Google releases an Apache module to optimize web page delivery

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Google has just released mod_pagespeed for the Apache web server.  Mod_Pagespeed automatically speeds delivery of web pages by optimizing HTML, combining and caching CSS and JavaScript, and automatically managing and adjusting cache times for relatively static elements.  Web developers can concentrate on building good sites. Let the system figure out how to optimize it.

A reviewer says that the module made his Drupal site “blindingly fast”, but he cautions that it broke some of the javascript.

This is certainly something to watch.


Is your wifi router a talk radio station?

The French National Commission on Computing and Liberty is shocked to find that Google’s street view vans have recorded snippets of wirless traffic, including email content, user ids and passwords. Apparently, the French are easily shocked.  What many people seem to forget is that wifi is radio and they’re running a radio station, starring all of the computers in the network.  Like any radio station, anyone with the right type of radio can listen and record your shows.

There are two things that everyone using wifi should do.

  • First, encrypt your wifi using WPA2.  It’s not foolproof, but defeating WPA2 is difficult and time consuming.  Anyone who’s after you, in particular, may want to invest the time, but the drive-by vans will skip you and read your neighbor’s unencrypted signal.
  • Second, whenever possible, login to websites using SSL.  SSL provides secure encryption from your computer to the server at the other end of the connection.  If you visit websites using “https” instead of “http”, you’re using SSL encryption.

Using SSL is for all data exchanges is critical when you’re on a shared, public wifi network.  Anyone at Starbucks, or the library, or your favorite place to park yourself with your notebook or phone could be recording network traffic.  On such networks, you should have absolutely no expectation of privacy.  It’s critical to encrypt your data before it goes out over the air.

Check with your email provider to find out if they support POPS or IMAPS and Secure SMTP.  The “S” at the end of POP and IMAP means that the connection between your computer and the mail server is encrypted via SSL, too.  All major mail clients support the protocol. If your mail provider doesn’t, it’s time to find a new mail provider.

If you use Gmail, click “Settings”, then “Always use https”.  Gmail will then enforce an SSL connection whenver you access it on the web.

Gmail fun with Google Labs features

I often use the Google web mail system to read my sterndata emai, as well as mail for my Gmail account.  If you use Gmail, turn on some of the labs features to punch up your mail experience.

There are two ways to get into the labs settings: Click on Settings, then the Labs tab or click directly on the laboratory beaker at the top of your Gmail screen.

The features I find most useful are

  • Sender Time Zone
    What was the sender’s local time?
  • Quote selected text
    Only quoted text will appear in a reply
  • Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat
    Send text messages directly from the Gmail screen.
  • Google Calendar gadget
    Adds a box in the left column which shows your Google Calendar. See upcoming events, locations, and details.
  • Got the wrong Bob?
    If you’re emailing more than two people at once, Gmail will check if you meant to include Bob Smith rather than Bob Jones based on the groups of people you email most often.
  • Don’t forget Bob
    Once you pick some email recipients, Stern Data Solutions Mail suggests more people you might want to include based on the groups of people you email most often.