Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Passwords? We don't need no stinkin' passwords!

Having informally surveyed some colleagues, I've concluded that outside of work, almost no one is managing his passwords. To wit:

"There are too, too many sites I frequent. Changing passwords on each one would be chaotic!"
"I think I can probably maintain one super-complex password, and use it on all my web sites and probably be just fine."
"No one is interested in my password."

I did talk to one fellow who maintains a password-protected spreadsheet on his hard drive containing all his "target rich" websites, such as banking and work portals. I asked him what would happen if he's away from his computer containing that spreadsheet, or if the computer dies. He said that he'd have some password-resets to do, but he could deal with it.


Personally, it's hard enough managing work-related password resets without adding personal favorites to my shrinking cranial capacity. It's a good thing I don't have to. In fact, I only really manage one password in my head. It just so happens that it is with that password that I unlock all my other passwords.
Of course, one of the peculiar features of this technique is that I plainly do not know any of my hundred or so passwords. They are all randomly generated according to the password restrictions of the venue I'm patronizing. Special characters, uppercase, lowercase and numbers-- it's all a black box to me.

How do I do it? It's called RoboForm Everywhere.

I'm not exactly sure when I came across RoboForm, but I do know that I've been using it for at least four years. What appealed to me was the speed with which I could move from site to site without clicking drop-down boxes and the like that commonly appear in the password managers in web browsers. Since that time a few years ago, RoboForm has evolved, and I must say it has truly liberated me from the frustrations of password management. Let's look at some usage cases:

Scenario (1) At the home computer
In this scenario, RoboForm maintains a password-protected, encrypted file on a local or mapped hard drive. Any changes I make, RoboForm syncs to the cloud. So even in the event that my home computer kicks the bucket, my passwords are just a sync away.

Scenario (2) On the laptop
In this scenario, RoboForm's locally cached passwords are synchronized via the cloud, so the changes I made at the home computer (scenario 1) are immediately available on the laptop. Very handy.

Scenario (3) On the work computer
This is a neat one. As most work machines are locked down pretty thoroughly, installing personal software is verboten. But that doesn't present a problem for me, as my passwords are also in the cloud. Yes, I could merely load up the website, authenticate and access those little treasure troves, but it is even easier than that. With a simple java-enabled shortcut strategically placed on my bookmark bar, I can load passwords, fill in the password forms, and authenticate--all initiated from the web browser shortcut. Wow. No installation required. If you can drag a shortcut to the bookmark bar, you can hit all your work sites and more.

Scenario (4) At a public kiosk or friend's machine
Not cool enough for you? Well in this scenario I'm without access to any machine I own or am assigned. So what to do? Well, I insert the 3.5 cm x 1.2 cm USB flash drive from my key chain in the computer, and voila! RoboForm2Go loads and does its thing. And yes, my passwords are in sync, as RoboForm Everywhere will let you sync to as many computers as you own (with a single license), as well as to a flash drive that you own if you license their value-added RoboForm2Go. Very liberating, indeed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Say "Goodbye!" to Vonage

We knew this day would come.

If ever there were a reason to cancel your Vonage service, you need look no further than what a respectable SIP provider plus a soft client can bring you.

For those just tuning in, the digital voice revolution is in full swing, and by now even the TELCOs have gotten the message that voice over plain old telephone sets is just so twentieth century. A telephone is just hardware. And telephone service is what people really want. And to the extent that you or I can use that service in any manner we want, the happier we will be.

Around 2004, in rushed Vonage to a market space that promised cheaper US calls from anywhere in the world. Just add IP. And what a wonderful thing it was to be able to plug in a plain-Jane telephone into a voice telephone adapter and get phone service just the way we were used to: A dial tone, familiar re-purposed hardware, and voice quality that no one would confuse with having originated at a computer. No goofy headsets, no CRTs. Just dial like your mamma taught you, and all was well with the world.

But then sometime between 2004 and 2010 things changed. Suddenly, and for no justifiable reason, I was paying more for Vonage phone service than I had ever paid for plain old wired phone service. 50 USD or more per month was starting to beg the question as to what I was getting out of this deal--other than the ability to put my phone about anywhere in the world that there is an Internet connection.

Well, enough is enough. I cut my Vonage service, saved buckets of loot, and now can make calls from the comfort of my hacienda or from the convenience of my iPhone. All in three easy steps:

  1. Choose a VOIP provider, such as VOIPo

  2. Install GroundWire from Acrobits on the iPhone

  3. Pull the plug on Vonage

Why put up with the hassle?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cloud Desktop

I've taken my time to get familiar with the Gladinet product offering, and there's a lot worth talking about. For one, the product does setup and execute with minimal fuss. The setup and configuration is straight-forward and intuitive.

As for the functionality of Gladinet, it can be overwhelming. Although not to the level of bloatware, mind you; it does endeavor to fulfill a multitude of functions: mirroring, backup, cloud-to-cloud backup, and the like. But for me, where Gladinet shines is its ability to intermediate between the Windows environment and third-party cloud-attached storage, such as that of Google Docs, Google Apps, Amazon S3 and WebDav services.

In my case, I have a couple cloud-based storage providers. MyDrive, my preferred platform for document filing, has been managed transparently by Gladinet for about a month now insofar as its connection to my Windows desktop environment is concerned. Although I am mapped via UNC path to MyDrive via Windows Explorer, I am also mapped via the Gladinet software.

Why? Well as it turns out, it is difficult to edit Microsoft Office 2010 documents directly from the Windows desktop. That is, the Windows implementation of the WebDav specification seems to differ from canon. That being the case, saving and updating from the Windows desktop is problematic at best, and downright infuriating at worst. But proxy the Windows Explorer mapped drive with that of a mapped drive through Gladinet, and those frustrations are much allayed. And while I can't say that updating documents via Gladient is flawless, (one must save over a document, vice update a document), it does get the job done.

Of course, the utility of working in the cloud is greatly enhanced when all one's documents are already residing there. This situation opens the question of how to move one's local files on disk to the cloud--which is worthy of separate discussion. More on that later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elusive Google G-Drive

Where is the Google G-drive that we’ve all been waiting for?

After a perusal of the Google Apps Marketplace, it becomes apparent that there is yet no standard tool whose primary purpose it to give us that “connected” feeling we get when we map network drives to our local machines.

Yes, if we’re looking for a Google App that mysteriously and magically keeps a copy of our file on the local workstation and another copy in the Google Cloud, there’s an app for that. And if we need to share documents among collaborators via the services that Google Apps and the Google Cloud provide, there’s an app for that, too. But for vanilla file access and storage to the Google Cloud, via webdav, I guess we’re forced to look elsewhere.

And elsewhere it is.

Gladinet has positioned itself as the integrator of not just the elusive G-drive, but of all cloud-based storage and access solutions. Gladinet makes the software behind its Cloud Desktop Service, which does the heavy lifting for those less-than-stellar WAN link connections.

As a regular user of other webdav services, I’ve experienced the pain associated with large files or multiple files that I access and edit via mapped drives using webdav. As such, I’m intrigued with the possibility of letting the Gladinet’s Cloud Desktop Service smooth out the fits and starts associated with webdav.

I’ll give it a try and report back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 3

One of the more challenging areas of slate tablet pc usage is navigation. Transitioning from the keyboard and mouse to stylus and hardware buttons is not as natural as it could be. Moving up and down in a document or in a webpage can be painful when searching for that narrow scroll bar or that teensy scroll arrow. Moreover for left-handed users, reaching across the page with your arm, thereby obstructing one’s view of the contents of the page can be downright frustrating.

So what choice do we have?

Scroll Control.

Scroll Control is really merely a component of a larger program—InkSeine, by Microsoft Research-- which attempts to capitalize on the merits of stylus-in-hand tablet computing. The genius of the Scroll Control executable is that rather than confine your stylus to one are of the page (for instance, the scroll bar), the stylus can actually initiate a scrolling action from the scroll control, but control the scrolling activity from anywhere. The beauty of this refinement is the user can control the scrolling of his pages from where it is comfortable to do so—anywhere on the screen.

Like so many other tweaks to a power tablet user’s pc, the trick is to avail the utility when you want it, and with minimal fuss. Normally, Scroll Control will load whenever InkSeine is invoked. But I prefer to just pin a shortcut to the Scroll Control executable to the Windows task bar. Another option is to drop a link to the executable in the Windows Startup folder, whereby it will already be running soon after loading the Windows environment.

Give it a try! Scroll Control is available in InkSeine from Microsoft Research and is free for download.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 2

This post is a continuation of our look at tablet software.

One of the first things a tablet user contends with when he makes the switch to pen-computing is the elimination of the optical drive. Well, to be precise, one of the things that the slate tablet pc user gives up when he makes the switch is the readily available optical drive. Years ago during my foray into the realm of the HP TC-1100, I can remember thinking that that was a limiting feature—a tradeoff of weight savings for convenience. Yet somehow from TC-1100 to Electrovaya’s Scribbler SC-3100 to my current Fujitsu ST-5112 twins, the elimination of the optical drive has proven to be more of an emancipating feature than that of a limiting one.

How so?

For one, I save weight, gain form factor and reduce battery use. What this means from a business perspective is that I am more apt to carry the tablet with me, and that it is more than likely going to have ample juice to perform as it was intended—outside the dock and comfortably cradled in my lap.

For two, I have ridden myself of the need to pipe software from CDs for loading large programs such as Microsoft Office or any of its complementary productivity software. Frankly, if not for my move to the slate tablet pc, I’d probably still be loading things off CDs and DVDs.

So what do I use to move ISOs onto my machines? My software of choice is Power ISO.

With a simple right-click of the mouse, an ISO is now mountable as a virtual drive in the Windows Explorer environment. The time

savings is immediately noticeable, in that files run off the hard drive, and best of all the capability is always available in the Windows Explorer environment, and yet is light and unobtrusive-the way good utilities should be.

Of course, I have managed to accumulate CDs, but those are stored safely in a physical storage container. But before stowing away those pesky CDs, I make a point of burning their ISO images, so that I may pull them on demand from my software library, as needed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tablet PC Software, Installment 1

Let’s talk tablet software.

There are manifold aspects to the automation that I’ve experienced over the past few years in part due to adapting a Tablet PC to my daily workday, that I’ve come to take my tablet for granted. Today I want to take a moment to recount my experience with some PDF annotation software that Grahl introduced some years ago called PDF Annotator.

Prior to my foray into the tablet workstyle, my day was speckled with the occasional paper-to-pen-to-scan-to-print-to-sign-to-scan-to-send cycle, that I had accepted it as the de rigueur behavior for standard forms and paperwork. Receive a form, print it, fill it in, sign it, scan it and send it was just how business was done. And woe be to the hapless intermediary who also has to chop on a work-in-progress. Now it’s his turn to initiate another iteration of the print it, fill it in, sign it, scan it and send it cycle—which only serves to further degrade what was once a pristine electronic version of a form.

Enter Grahl’s PDF Annotator.

The cycle was broken with the ability to fill in a PDF with my TC1100 or Scribbler SC-3100 or Stylistic ST-5112. I can obtain the form electronically, fill it in with a stylus and the tablet pc, and then email it straight away for action. No printing and scanning. No fuss, no mess.

During the course of a normal business day, any number of correspondence requiring my signature and remittance comes and goes electronically, without so much as paper and pen coming between me and its ultimate recipient. This represents a real dollar savings in toner cartridges and paper not bought. But the value I see every day is the time savings I realize by being able to turn around routine paperwork in seconds what takes the conventional manager literally minutes to accomplish. This kind of automation really adds up during the course of a workweek.

So how does it work?

From this side of the tablet, it’s pure magic. The PDF comes in via email or file server, I open it with PDF Annotator and jot and sign away. I then save over the original (or save as a copy) and forward or file a copy of it to its intended recipient.

How many times have I been away from a printer, but tethered to the Internet, when I received a file for signature? This simple but powerful piece of software actually obviates pen and paper for routine forms and remittance. And if I had to rate the bang for the buck when it comes to tablet software, this little package from Grahl takes the cake.